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Led by Synthetic Opioids, Drug Overdose Deaths Climbed Through 2017. Have They Reached a Plateau?

Data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that deaths due to drug overdoses climbed from 2015 through the end of 2017, but preliminary data suggest the annual death rate may have reached a plateau.

According to the data, total drug overdose deaths were approximately 48,000 per year as of March 2015, and climbed steadily to a high of over 70,000 per year as of October 2017. Data for January 2018 suggest an annual death rate of approximately 69,000.

Opioids of all classes accounted for the majority of these deaths, rising from approximately 30,000 per year in early 2015 to 49,500 in late 2017. This growth was driven largely by a rise in deaths due to synthetic opioids, excluding methadone, which rose from about 6,600 per year in early 2015 to over 29,000 per year by late 2017, while deaths due to heroin and natural or semi-synthetic opioids remained approximately unchanged over the same period. Cocaine- and psychostimulant-related deaths also climbed.