The number of drug overdose deaths increased significantly in the US last year, a rise of 10% over the 72,287 people deaths recorded from drug and opioid overdose in 2017, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control.
A majority of the deaths – nearly 49,000 – was caused by opioids, according to the new data. And the biggest driver was the dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl, which killed more than 29,000 people, followed by heroin and other drugs.
The rising overdose numbers make the drug epidemic more deadly than gun violence, car crashes or Aids, which have never killed as many people in a single year. It represents nearly 200 people dying from overdoses every day in 2017.
The highest death rates came in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Some states – Massachusetts, Vermont, Wyoming and Montana – have begun to reduce their number of deaths.
But across the country deaths have continued to rise, despite efforts to tackle the spread of opioid addiction through education, treatment and law enforcement measures.
The CDC’s statistics are preliminary because some deaths are still under investigation.
On Thursday, the Trump administration proposed that US drugmakers cut production quotas of the six most abused opioids by 10% next year to fight the nationwide addiction crisis.
In a statement, the justice department and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said the proposed cut would be in keeping with Donald Trump’s effort to cut opioid prescription fills by one-third within three years.
The president also pressed the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to sue drug manufacturers over the opioid crisis.
“I’d like to bring a federal lawsuit against those companies,” Trump said during a meeting of his cabinet at the White House. He did not name the companies.
The justice department and the DEA said they are proposing to cut production quotas for oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone, morphine and fentanyl by 7% to 15%, depending on the compound, in 2019.
Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed by states, counties and cities against opioid manufacturers including Purdue Pharmaceuticals LP, Endo International plc, Mallinckrodt and Johnson & Johnson, seeking to hold them responsible for contributing to the epidemic. Those companies were not immediately available for comment.
Last year, the Trump administration declared a “public health emergency”, calling the epidemic “worst drug crisis in American history”. But the declaration did not come with additional funding to treat or prevent drug addiction.
He also suggested the death penalty for dealers, a proposal that has gained little support from drug abuse and judicial experts.
The surge in fentanyl, which is synthetically produced and can be 50 times stronger than heroin, has led to a sharp spike in deaths even as use of opioids overall has been rising for years. The drug is mostly brought into the country from overseas, especially China, and sometimes mixed in with heroin without users knowing it.