Overdose deaths involving heroin and synthetic opioids continued to rise sharply in 2015, while an increase in overdose deaths from prescription opioids occurred at a slower rate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on Dec. 8.
The overall number of opioid overdose deaths rose to 33,091 last year, compared with 28,647 deaths in 2014. Some of these deaths involved both illicit and prescription opioids.
Heroin overdose deaths increased by 23% in 2015, to 12,990. Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone increased by a staggering 73%, to 9,580, with most of these deaths attributed to illicit fentanyl.
Prescription opioid overdose deaths, conversely, increased by only 4% in 2015, to 17,536. Federal officials suggest that efforts to curb prescription drug misuse have had an effect.
“Prescription opioid misuse and use of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl are intertwined and deeply troubling problems,” said CDC director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH. “We need to drastically improve both the treatment of pain and the treatment of opioid use disorders and increase the use of naloxone to reverse opioid overdose.”