POLITICS
12/18/2015 04:20 pm ET

More People Died Of Opioid Overdoses Last Year Than Ever Before

Heroin and prescription painkillers drive the overdose epidemic, the CDC finds.

WASHINGTON -- In 2014, deaths from opioid overdoses increased by 14 percent over the previous year. The spike in fatal overdoses helped mark a depressing milestone in the U.S., according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

"More persons died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2014 than during any previous year on record," the CDC reported.

In a press release announcing its findings, the CDC wrote that overdoses from heroin and prescription painkillers "are the biggest drivers of the drug overdose epidemic." It noted that deaths involving fentanyl -- a dangerous opioid that is sometimes mixed with heroin -- are rising as well. Dr. Tom Frieden, the CDC's director, called the increases in deaths "alarming." 

The news is just the latest reporting from the CDC, which has tracked the epidemic for years. In a study released a year ago looking at 28 states, the CDC found that heroin deaths doubled between 2010 and 2012. From 2012 to 2013, heroin deaths nationwide jumped 39 percent, the CDC reported previously. In its new findings, the CDC noted that "from 2000 to 2014 nearly half a million Americans died from drug overdoses."

“The opioid epidemic is devastating American families and communities. To curb these trends and save lives, we must help prevent addiction and provide support and treatment to those who suffer from opioid use disorders," Frieden said. "This report also shows how important it is that law enforcement intensify efforts to reduce the availability of heroin, illegal fentanyl, and other illegal opioids.”

Heroin-related death rates increased 26 percent from 2013–2014, the latest study found. There were 10,574 such deaths last year. (There were a total of 28,647 overdose deaths, the CDC noted, meaning that nearly two-thirds of overdose deaths were related to opioids other than heroin.)

Media reports over the last year have often portrayed this epidemic as a problem exclusively among white Americans. The CDC refutes such findings, noting that overdoses are up among both non-Hispanic whites and African-Americans. The five states where rates of overdose deaths are the highest are West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio (you can check out a CDC map here). 

In addressing how to stop the epidemic, the CDC called for expanding access to medication assisted treatment -- which public health officials have long cited as the best chance at a sustainable recovery for opioid addicts. A Huffington Post investigation published in January highlighted the lack of access to such treatment. 

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