More than 72,000 people died from drug overdose deaths in 2017, according to early data released Wednesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with nearly 30,000 of those deaths involving illicit fentanyl or its more powerful analogs.
Last year, 64,000 died of drug overdoses, with 42,000 deaths related to opioids — including prescription pain pills, heroin and fentanyl.
Federal health bodies have increased surveillance of drug overdoses and deaths in recent years to better understand the threat before them. It is not always immediately clear what drugs are involved in an overdose and not all hospitals, especially in more rural areas, have the resources to accurately document and report detailed toxicology.
The CDC said in its latest report, updated that the preliminary numbers are likely an underestimate to the final count. The data was compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics.
Another version of the report was made available last week on the website of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health.
Of their data, 29,406 overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids. Heroin accounted for 15,958 deaths and natural and semi-synthetic opioids were involved in 14,958 deaths.
Overdose deaths related to cocaine increased sharply from between 2014 and 2017, from less than 6,000 to 14,556, respectively. The number of deaths from cocaine mixed with opioid synthetics increased from just under 1,000 in 2014 to 4,184 in 2016.
Deaths involving anti-anxiety medications Benzodiazepine mixed with opioids also increased. There were 10,684 overdose deaths from these drugs in 2016. In 2015, that number was 8,791.
Fentanyl and analogs, like carfentanil — 100 times more powerful than fentanyl — are increasingly showing up in death notices around the country. While carfentanil is the most commonly detected analog, the Drug Enforcement Agency has also noted other analogs, furanylfentanyl, acrylfentanyl and acetylfentanyl, present in overdose reports and deaths.
Another synthetic drug, U-47700 (about 7.5 times more potent than morphine) was detected in 123 opioid overdose deaths in 10 states participating in the State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System (SUDORS), administered by the CDC.
U-477000 was originally created by pharmaceutical company Upjohn in the 1970s but was never cleared by the Food and Drug Administration to be marketed as a pain reliever.