Overdose drug deaths climbed steeply in the United States over the past 15 years, with heroin and the synthetic painkiller Fentanyl leading the way, according to the CDC.
A new study released on Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics compiled the information from death certificate data, reported PBS NewsHour. Researchers were able to pinpoint specific drugs linked to overdose deaths from the information.
More than 47,000 people died of drug overdose in the United States in 2014, a rate of 14.7 deaths per 100,000 people, more than double the rate reported 15 years earlier. Heroin accounted for nearly one-fourth of the deaths.
The increase in deaths connected to synthetic opioids has exploded, jumping 72 percent in 2015 while heroin death rates increased about 21 percent, noted HealthDay.
"The report really highlights what we are seeing in the emergency department," said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
"We're seeing a surge in the number of patients who are very difficult to resuscitate, who require high levels of naloxone [a medication that reverses effects of overdose]. With these patients, we often suspect synthetic opiates," said Glatter.
Emily Feinstein, director of health law and policy for the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, told HealthDay that heroin has become the gateway drug for fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin.
"Synthetics are cheaper than heroin to make, and we're seeing them flood the United States," Feinstein said. "Drug dealers are cutting heroin with these synthetic drugs because it's cheaper, and it actually makes the drug more potent. If you don't know the heroin you're using is being cut, the normal dose you usually take becomes deadly."
The CDC study also found that multiple drugs may contribute to an overdose death.
"Literal text analysis also revealed that many drug overdose deaths involved multiple drugs," said the study. "Findings should be interpreted in light of the improvement in the quality of the data that resulted from better reporting of specific drugs on death certificates from 2010 through 2014. Relative increases in the death rates involving specific drugs and the rankings of these drugs may be affected by improvements in reporting, real increases in the numbers of death, or both."
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