Powerful synthetic opioid driving increase in overdose deaths: CDC report

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The opioid epidemic is showing no signs of slowing down, as a new analysis reveals overdose deaths are rising among demographic groups and spreading geographically, and powerful synthetic opioids are largely behind the increases.

“The opioid overdose epidemic in the United States continues to worsen,” according to an in-depth analysis of 2016 drug overdose data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Lawmakers and the administration are working to address the opioid epidemic, which is causing more deaths per year than traffic crashes.

Powerful synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, are up to 50 times more potent than heroin and are driving the increasing rate of overdose deaths, according to the report. Synthetic opioid-related deaths accounted for nearly 31 percent of all drug overdose deaths in 2016.

Of the more than 63,600 drug overdose deaths nationwide, nearly two-thirds involved an opioid.

The analysis provided a snapshot of where and what populations are hit the hardest.

Among demographic groups, males ages 25 to 44 had the largest increase — 34 percent — of opioid overdose deaths from 2015 to 2016.

The CDC analysis was based on data from 31 states and Washington, D.C.

Death rates involving synthetic opioids increased in 20 states and Washington, D.C., with 10 states doubling in rates. Washington, D.C., had the largest increase of 392 percent, followed by a 227 percent rise in Illinois and a nearly 207 percent increase in Maryland.

Last week, President Trump unveiled a three-pronged plan to combat the opioid epidemic.

Public health advocates lauded the treatment and prevention initiatives, but the plan faced criticism over its mandate to seek the death penalty, when appropriate under current law, for certain drug traffickers. Addiction advocates have been pleading for a move away from “war on drugs” efforts they say didn’t work in the past.

On Capitol Hill, the House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to bring opioid legislation to the House floor by Memorial Day weekend.

The Senate Health Committee is aiming to mark up legislation by the spring, and a bipartisan group of senators has already introduced legislation dubbed a follow up to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act passed in 2016.

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