By JOSH KATZ and MARGOT SANGER-KATZ NOV. 29, 2018
A class of synthetic drugs has replaced heroin in many major American drug markets, ushering in a more deadly phase of the opioid epidemic.
New numbers Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that drug overdoses killed more than 70,000 Americans in 2017, a record. Overdose deaths are higher than deaths from H.I.V., car crashes or gun violence at their peaks. The data also show that the increased deaths correspond strongly with the use of synthetic opioids known as fentanyls.
Since 2013, the number of overdose deaths associated with fentanyls and similar drugs has grown to more than 28,000, from 3,000. Deaths involving fentanyls increased more than 45 percent in 2017 alone.
In a separate report, the C.D.C. also documented a 3.7 percent increase in the suicide rate, another continuation of a recent trend.
“Fentanyl deaths are up, a 45 percent increase; that is not a success,” said Dr. Dan Ciccarone, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “We have a heroin and synthetic opioid epidemic that is out of control and needs to be addressed.”
Synthetic drugs tend to be more deadly than prescription pills and heroin for two main reasons. They are usually more potent, meaning small errors in measurement can lead to an overdose. The blends of synthetic drugs also tend to change frequently, making it easy for drug users to underestimate the strength of the drug they are injecting.