|Alarming rise in drug overdoses
|Deaths from overdose of prescription painkillers and illegal drugs increased 20% between 2015 and 2016 – the largest annual jump ever in the U.S. – according to data compiled by The New York Times.
The newspaper estimates deaths rose from 52,404 to 62,497, and concludes the problem is getting worse. The CDC won’t have the official tally for 2016 until December this year.
The Times compiled estimates for 2016 from hundreds of county coroners and medical examiners and state health departments. The data reports a grim picture of a modern plague now turning even deadlier because of illicitly manufactured fentanyl and similar drugs.
Drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death among Americans under 50. Overall, nearly 95 million Americans used prescription painkillers in the past year, and estimates indicate more than two million are dependent on opioids.
A particularly worrisome trend is sale of fentanyl and its analogues over the internet, which is enabling lethal drugs to reach all corners of society. Last year, two 13-year-old boys died in Park City, Utah after taking a synthetic opioid they had purchased from a local teenager, who had bought the drugs on the internet.
In late February this year, federal authorities charged a man in South Carolina with receiving more than three kilograms of fentanyl ordered through encrypted web channels. The amount would be enough to kill 1.5 million adults, given that just two milligrams is a lethal dose, according to the Times.
Joseph Pinjuh, chief of the organized crime task force in the U.S. attorney’s office in Cleveland, told the newspaper “we could give you a pretty good idea of the drug traffickers in town who can order kilos from Mexico – that’s a known commodity. What’s harder to track is the person ordering this from his grandmother’s basement.”
In 2015, the last year for which national data is available, fentanyl and similar drugs killed 9,580 people, an increase of 73% over 2014. The Times reports that in Montgomery County, Ohio – one of the worst-hit states – of the overdose deaths recorded in January and February this year, only three people tested positive for heroin; 99 tested positive for fentanyl or an analogue.
At a press conference in June called to highlight the hazards of fentanyl, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein remarked “some people say we should be more permissive, more tolerant, more understanding about drug abuse. I say we should be more honest, and we should be forthcoming with the American people about the clear and present danger that we now face.”