Photo (c) Jwh via Wikimedia Commons

Death from opioid drugs knows no boundaries. It has taken nearly half a million Americans in the years from 2000 to 2014 -- young, old, white, black, rich, poor, urban, and rural -- and the problem is getting worse, with overdose deaths increasing 14% in 2014.

Opioids include illegal drugs -- heroin and fentanyl -- and prescription pain relievers including oxycodone and hydrocodone. 

“The increasing number of deaths from opioid overdose is alarming,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “The opioid epidemic is devastating American families and communities. To curb these trends and save lives, we must help prevent addiction and provide support and treatment to those who suffer from opioid use disorders."

A report published last week in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report "shows how important it is that law enforcement intensify efforts to reduce the availability of heroin, illegal fentanyl, and other illegal opioids,” Frieden said.

Increases in prescription opioid pain reliever and heroin deaths are the biggest driver of the drug overdose epidemic, the report found. Deaths from heroin increased in 2014, continuing a sharp rise that has seen heroin overdoses triple since 2010. Deaths involving illicitly made fentanyl, a potent opioid often added to or sold as heroin, also are on the upswing.

Drug overdose deaths are up in both men and women, in non-Hispanic whites and blacks, and in adults of nearly all ages. Rates of drug overdose deaths were highest among five states: West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Ohio.

States with greatest increase in overdose deaths in 2014 (CDC phto)

Both trends worsened

The findings show that two distinct but intertwined trends are driving America’s overdose epidemic: a 15-year increase in deaths from prescription opioid pain reliever overdoses as a result of misuse and abuse, and a recent surge in illicit drug overdoses driven mainly by heroin. Both of these trends worsened in 2014.

Heroin-related death rates increased 26% from 2013–2014, totaling 10,574 deaths in 2014. Past misuse of prescription opioids is the strongest risk factor for heroin initiation and use—especially among people who became dependent upon or abused prescription opioids in the past year.

The report recommends limiting the use of opioid pain relievers and expanding access to treatment, including greater use of naloxone -- a critical drug that can reverse the symptoms of an opioid overdose and save lives.​

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