More than 300,000 Americans have lost their lives to opioids—prescription and illicit – since 2000, according to new data published today in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The new report examines opioid overdose rate data and identifies trends by four opioid drug categories, by demographics, and by states. These new 2015 data indicate:
- More than 52,000 people died from a drug overdose, and of those, 33,091 (63.1%) involved an opioid.
- Death rates involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (referred to as synthetic opioids) increased 72.2% from 2014-2015. Recent state reports have indicated that increases in synthetic opioid deaths are being driven by increases in fentanyl overdose deaths, which is likely due to illicitly-manufactured fentanyl.
- Heroin death rates increased 20.6% from 2014-2015.
- Methadone death rates decreased 9.1% from 2014-2015. A trend observed since 2008, this decline followed efforts to reduce methadone use for pain, including FDA warnings, limits on high-dose formulations, and clinical guidelines.
- Death rates related to natural opioids (which include morphine and codeine) and semi-synthetic opioids (which include commonly prescribed pain medications such as oxycodone and hydrocodone) increased 2.6% from 2014-2015, but this increase has slowed down in comparison to the rate increase from 2013-2014.
- Death rates that involved synthetic opioids and heroin increased in both sexes and all race/ethnicity groups from 2014-2015.
This new report also includes state analyses of death certificate data for opioid overdoses in 28 states with consistent and high quality reporting of specific drugs involved in an overdose. During 2010–2015, the rate of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. increased in 30 states and DC, remained stable in 19 states, and showed decreasing trends followed by increases in two states.
Regionally, natural and semi-synthetic opioid death rates increased in the Northeast and South. Synthetic opioid and heroin death rates increased in all regions from 2014-2015.
What Can Be Done
This new report highlights the increasing trend of opioid abuse, and the urgent need to prevent opioid use disorder and overdose deaths. The findings indicate four ways to prevent overdose deaths and reduce drivers of this epidemic including:
- Improving opioid prescribing to reduce exposure to opioids and prevent opioid use disorder by training providers and implementing the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain.
- Improving access to and use of prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs).
- Protecting those suffering from opioid use disorder (OUD) by expanding OUD treatment capacity and enhancing linkage to treatment.
- Implementing harm reduction approaches including naloxone distribution and syringe services programs.