Deaths from drug overdoses continue to rise in the US, especially among blacks and Hispanics

The opioid epidemic is at the center of the problem.

March 29, 2018, 1:49 PM

New figures from the CDC show that the number of people dying from drug overdoses keeps climbing -- last year the number rose across the country.

"No area of the United States is exempt from this epidemic – we all know a friend, family member, or loved one devastated by opioids," said Anne Schuchat, M.D., the CDC's principal deputy director.

Nearly 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, an increase of almost 22 percent from 2015 reports.

Breaking the numbers down by which drugs were involved, according to the available information, the increase was largely driven by synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. Overdoses involving these drugs more than doubled between 2015 and 2016. Overdoses involving prescription opioids increased by 11 percent and those involving heroin increased by 20 percent.

The numbers reported came from an analysis of death certificate records from 31 states and the District of Columbia. The figures include both accidental and intentional overdoses, such as suicide.

Overdose deaths appeared to increase across all demographic categories -- men and women, all ethnicities, urban, rural and suburban.

However, the overdose deaths are increasing at a faster rate among some groups. Most overdose deaths are still among whites, but non-Hispanic blacks were hit hard by the problem in 2016, showing an increase of more than 40 percent, versus an almost 20 percent rise in whites.

Despite this, whites are still the most likely ethnic group to die from a drug overdose. There were more than 25 overdose deaths for every 100,000 white people in the United States in 2016, compared to 17 for blacks and 9 for Hispanics.

Young adult men were most affected; opioid overdoses were the highest in males between the ages of 24 and 44 years old.

The states struggling most with opioid overdoses, adjusted for population density, were West Virginia and New Hampshire; the states had 43 and 36 deaths per 100,000 people respectively.

One thing to remember in looking at all these statistics: state reports on overdoses vary widely. Up to 15 percent of death certificates did not identify which drugs were involved in the overdose.

Help for those with opioid addiction is going to take coordination throughout communities, the CDC said.

“Effective programs to prevent drug overdoses will require coordination of law enforcement, first responders, mental health providers, public health agencies and community partners," Dr. Puja Seth, the researcher who authored the report, said.

In light of the epidemic, the CDC says it recommends increased access to treatment for opioid use disorder. It also plans to widen access to naloxone, a drug which is used in emergencies to quickly reverse the effects of opioid overdose.

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