Extensive data collected by The New York Times reveals incredibly disturbing news: approximately 62,500 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016. The number itself is staggering, but it's even more troubling when compared to the number of drug-related deaths in 2015.
The number of drug overdose deaths recorded in 2015 was 52,404, so there was a 19 percent increase last year. This marks the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States and drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death in individuals under the age of 50. Experts believe the tragic surge is directly related to abuse of opioids such as heroin and fentanyl.
The New York Times report also found that the increase in drug-related deaths was regional. Areas east of the Mississippi saw the largest increases, while the numbers stayed level or declined in the west. Mexican black tar heroin is more prevalent in the west, and powdered heroin is common in the east.
Not only is powdered heroin more deadly, but it's frequently laced with fentanyl. A new, even more dangerous addition to opioids has arrived in the form of carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer that is potentially 5,000 times stronger than heroin.
According to Captain Michael Shearer, the commander of the Narcotics Unit for the Akron Police Department, carfentanil hit the streets of Akron on July 5, 2016. Within a span of nine hours, 17 people overdosed and one person died. Over the next six months, the county medical examiner found carfentanil in the systems of 140 overdose victims.
Last month, the state of Ohio filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies claiming their marketing campaigns “misled doctors and patients about the danger of addiction and overdose.”
Purdue, the maker of OxyContin, issued the following statement in response: “We share the attorney general’s concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions.”