CDC: 2017 worst year yet for drug overdoses


An estimated 72,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in 2017 in the United States, making it the worst year on record, according to preliminary data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The record high was driven by a sharp increase in deaths attributed to synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and tramadol, data published on the agency’s website show.

The provisional counts are based on death records sent to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics from state vital registration offices in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, reported lead author Farida B. Ahmad, MPH, of the division of vital statistics at the NCHS. Overall, the predicted number of drug overdose deaths has climbed steadily, from 54,207 in November 2015 to 66,012 in November 2016, and to 72,287 in November 2017, according to an interactive chart accessible on the website.

Deaths attributable to synthetic opioids have climbed faster than any other drug class, soaring from just 9,983 in 2015 to 20,310 in 2016, and to 29,418 in 2017.

The next-largest category, heroin-related deaths, increased from 13,407 in 2015 to 16,012 in 2016, but appeared to plateau at 15,959 in 2017. However, the CDC cautioned that flat or declining numbers could be attributable to incomplete data, true decreases in deaths, or some combination of the two. “True declines or plateaus in the numbers of drug overdose deaths across the U.S. cannot be ascertained until final data become available.”

Cocaine-related deaths were fewer in number but appear to have risen substantially to the point where the number of deaths now nearly rival that of heroin. The number of deaths was 7,106 in 2015, 10,868 in 2016, and 14,614 in 2017.

The count of drug overdose deaths varied by state. Nebraska had the sharpest increase in predicted deaths between January 2017 and January 2018, coming in at 33.3%, though the absolute numbers of cases were low (114 through January 2017 and 152 through January 2018). North Carolina also showed substantial increases (from 2,053 to 2,515 cases, 22.5%), as did New Jersey (2,219 to 2,687 cases, 21.1%), the CDC data showed.

Provisional data will be updated on a monthly basis as additional records are received, the CDC said.

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