Federal health officials announced on Wednesday that fentanyl is now America’s deadliest drug, according to statistics from 2016, the most recent year for which data is available. That year, over 18,000 overdose deaths related to fentanyl occurred, USA Today reported.
The report, which was prepared by the National Center for Health Statistics (a branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), also said that the rate of overdose deaths from fentanyl rose drastically between 2013 and 2016, with an average 113 percent increase per year. In 2016, fentanyl was responsible for 29 percent of all overdose deaths, while 2011 saw only 4 percent of overdose deaths related to fentanyl.
Over 63,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016, averaging to about 174 deaths per day. While a percentage of these deaths was a result of fentanyl use, the report also notes that the drug was often mixed with others.
“A lot of the deaths that mention fentanyl also mention heroin, and a lot of the deaths that mention cocaine also mention fentanyl,” said lead researcher and medical epidemiologist Dr. Holly Hedegaard, which CBS News reported.
Heroin and cocaine mixed with fentanyl have become increasingly common in recent years. Fentanyl is an opioid that is 80 to 100 times stronger than heroin or cocaine and was first developed to treat pain in cancer patients, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The drug is often disguised as highly potent heroin, resulting in users unknowingly buying fentanyl and accidentally overdosing.
The rate of drug overdoses involving fentanyl skyrocketed by about 113% each year from 2013 through 2016, according to a new government report https://t.co/ktUNotHhBD
— CNN (@CNN) December 12, 2018
Fentanyl overdose deaths are known to be more unintentional than overdose deaths from prescription or over-the-counter drugs, such as OxyContin, Benadryl, Vicodin, and Xanax, which are often cited in suicide cases.
Some addicts are seeking out fentanyl, though, as director of addiction services at Staten Island University Hospital Dr. Harshal Kirane said.
“It represents an evolution of the opioid crises in which patterns have shifted to a much more potent drug, putting users at a greater risk of overdose and death,” he said.
Other, much stronger forms of fentanyl, such as carfentanil or butyrfentanyl, are also increasingly involved in overdose deaths, the report showed.
“This study continues to sound the alarm that we have a long way to go to reversing the tragic trends within the opioid crisis,” Kirane added.
This is the first year that fentanyl has topped the list. Heroin had previously been listed as America’s deadliest drug from 2011-2015, but it now sits as the second deadliest, followed by cocaine and methamphetamine. Overdose deaths involving cocaine and methamphetamine saw a decline earlier in the decade, but are now increasing again.