Drug Overdose Now the Leading Cause of Death for Americans Under 50

8 June 2017
Graves signifying deaths from drug overdose.

The Office of the Attorney General reports that fatal drug overdose rates hit a new in 2016. They also report that this year’s spike represents the largest single-year increase in American history. In 2015, there were approximately 53,000 fatal drug overdoses in the United States, up from the more than 47,000 the year prior. Preliminary numbers have the 2016 figure at just about 60,000. With the rising rates of opioid and heroin addiction among Americans of all ages, it’s little wonder that fatal drug overdose is now the leading cause of death among United States residents under 50 years of age.

Data compiled by the New York Times paints a grim and desperate picture and highlights the need for more enhanced treatment access to those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. Because drug deaths take a long time to certify, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will not be able to calculate final numbers until December. To put these rates in perspective, traffic fatalities for the entire nation topped out at about 40,000, according to data from the National Safety Council. Although this represents a six percent increase and a ten-year high, it’s still nearly 20,000 short of fatal drug overdose rates.

Drug overdose is plaguing every area of the country, from California to Ohio, which saw at least 4,100 overdose deaths last year, to New Jersey, which has become one of the most heavily-plagued regions in the Northeastern United States. It’s hard to discount the role that prescription painkillers and heroin are playing in this increasing and alarming escalation. While anti-overdose tools like Narcan may have saved lives in recent years, they must be met with prevention, education and treatment in order to keep communities drug-free to begin with. The pursuit of a drug-free nations starts with grassroots efforts.

To make matters worse, all data indicates that the problem is likely to worsen in 2017, as drugs like fentanyl make further inroads into all areas of the United States. Fentanyl is said to be 100 times more potent than pure heroin and has become the leading opioid-related public health issue in many parts of the country. In 2015, deaths from synthetic opioids, including illicit fentanyl, rose 73 percent to 9,580. Heroin deaths rose 23 percent and prescription opioid deaths rose four. While more and more money and attention is being paid to the opioid crisis, it’s uncertain whether or not it will make an immediate difference.