Fentanyl has surpassed heroin as the top drug involved in U.S. overdose deaths, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Driven largely by the synthetic opioid that’s 50 times more potent than heroin, the number of fatal drug overdoses in America climbed from 41,340 in 2011 to 63,632 in 2016 – a 54 percent increase – the CDC data show. A November report from the agency showed the death toll has risen even higher since then, reaching 70,237 last year, and that drug deaths are a leading cause of falling life expectancy in the U.S. in recent years.
Broad classifications can make it difficult to tally deaths associated with any specific drug, so for the new report, researchers searched the text of death certificates from 2011 to 2016 to come up with the totals.
“Figures should be considered the minimum number or rate for that … drug category because there could be additional deaths in which the drug was involved, but the drug was not reported in the literal text on the death certificate,” the report said.
Some drug categories in the report include related substances, with the fentanyl category including chemicals used to make it as well as analogues. Carfentanil, for example, is a fentanyl analogue 100 times more potent than fentanyl itself. Researchers also cautioned against comparing numbers across years, as reporting of specific drugs involved in a death improved over the period studied.
While fatal overdoses frequently involve multiple drugs, these 10 were identified to some degree in the greatest numbers of overdose deaths in 2016, according to the CDC data.
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