Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50
America’s opioid crisis continues to grow, according to new data showing drug overdose deaths have reached a new record high across the country.
As The New York Times reports, drug overdose deaths in 2016 leaped to 59,000, largely driven by opioid addiction and abuse combined with the recent spread of other dangerous drugs like fentanyl. The findings are based on preliminary data, but if confirmed it would make drug overdoses the leading cause of death for Americans under 50-years-old.
To estimate the number of drug overdose deaths last year, The Times relied on estimates collected from hundreds of state health departments, county coroners, and medical examiners from states and counties with high rates of drug overdoses. They selected these locations because the areas accounted for 76 percent of drug overdose deaths in 2015.
In Ohio – the state leading the nation in overdose deaths – at least 4,100 people died from unintentional overdoses last year. That marks a 36 percent increase from 2015.
Thomas Gilson, the medical examiner for Cuyahoga County, described the opioid crisis to CBS News by saying: “If you look at how many people die in the country from opiate overdose, we’re looking at the same number of casualties as the entire Vietnam conflict.”
While overdose deaths result from a wide array of substances ranging from alcohol to cocaine, experts say opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers are the biggest killers. The situation has gotten even worse in recent history as more and more drugs are being found mixed with fentanyl or other similar substances.
Fentanyl is commonly used by street dealers as a substitute for heroin or to make counterfeit prescription drugs. In the past year, it has also been found in cocaine. That is believed the be the cause of an increase in cocaine-related overdoses. Some forms of fentanyl, such as its analogue carfentanil, can be as much as 5,000 times deadlier than heroin. In pure forms, an amount similar to grains of salt can be a lethal dose.
Making matters worse, anecdotal reports show the most commonly used medication to treat overdoses is often not enough in a single dose. First responders frequently use two or three doses to get results. Doyle Burke, chief investigator at the Warren County, Ohio coroner’s office, says it sometimes takes many more doses to save a person’s life.
“E.M.S. crews are hitting them with 12, 13, 14 hits of Narcan with no effect,” Mr. Burke told The Times, likening a shot of Narcan to “a squirt gun in a house fire.”
The trend isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon. Early data collected this year indicates drug overdoses are expected to continue rising throughout 2017.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call us at (888) 298-4673. We can answer any questions you have and find the right treatment plan for you.