Despite efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, deaths from drug overdoses reached an all-time high in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Deaths from overdoses of prescription drugs and heroin continue to be the leading cause of unintentional death for Americans, rising 14% from 2013 to 2014.
Last year, 47,055 people died from drug overdoses — 1.5 times greater than the number killed in car crashes. Opioids are involved in 61% of all drug overdose deaths.
The latest CDC data finds that deaths from natural opiates such as morphine, codeine and semisynthetic prescription pain killers like oxycodone and hydrocodone jumped 10% from 2013 to 2014. Deaths from heroin overdoses rose 26%.
The biggest increase in deaths was from from synthetic opioids, which went up 80%. According to the CDC, the increase in synthetic opioid deaths coincided with increased reports by law enforcement of illicitly manufactured fentanyl.
Prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and morphine are derived from the same poppy plants as heroin. Most heroin users initially start by using prescription painkillers.
The drugs’ chemical structures are similar and they bind to the same receptors in the brain. Using these drugs results in an increased tolerance to pain and a sense of euphoria. However, at high doses, it can also slow breathing.
The states with the highest rates of overdose were West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio.
Since 2000, opioid drug overdose deaths rose 200%. Nearly half a million lives have been lost to opioid drug overdoses since then.