The number of drug overdose deaths reached an all-time high in 2016, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Estimated deaths for the first nine months of 2016 were significantly higher than the first nine months of 2015, which had set its own record with 52,404 drug-related deaths.
Of the 52,404 deaths reported in 2015, over 33,000 were attributed to opioids including legal prescription painkillers and illicit drugs like heroin and street fentanyl.
In the third quarter of 2016, there were 19.9 drug overdose deaths for every 100,000 people — a significant increase compared to 16.7 from the same period in 2015. The number of deaths was also higher in the first and second quarters of 2016.
Earlier this week, a report published by The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the number of deaths from opioid overdoses between 2008 and 2014 was likely underestimated. For example, heroin overdose deaths were underestimated by 22 percent. The discrepancy is likely due to the increasing prevalence of synthetic opioids like street fentanyl, which medical examiners and health departments may not have initially included on death certificates.
These numbers are a sobering reminder that the drug epidemic is worsening. Illicit fentanyl and other designer opioids like U-4770 (more commonly known as Pink) are being cut into heroin and other drugs with greater frequency.
Last week, Trump's commission on the opioid epidemic called on the President to declare the drug overdose crisis a national emergency.
"Our citizens are dying. We must act boldly to stop it," the commission wrote in a report. "The first and most urgent recommendation of this Commission is direct and completely within your control. Declare a national emergency."
Trump met with top officials today for a "major briefing" on the opioid epidemic, but he declined to declare a national emergency. Following the meeting, he made a statement that grossly under-simplified the fact that drug addiction is a mental illness, not a choice.
"So if we can keep [people] from going on — and maybe by talking to youth and telling them: 'No good, really bad for you in every way.' But if they don’t start, it will never be a problem," Trump told reporters at his private golf club.