Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. The NYT calculates that last year included 62,500 overdose deaths, which is a major leap over the 52,404 from 2015. We won’t know the exact numbers until December since overdose deaths are much more time-consuming to certify than other types of deaths.
The primary drug behind this spike is opiates. Opioid addiction is one of the most difficult to kick, and the most dangerous to have. Tie that to the recent influx of illicitly manufactured fentanyl and similar drugs, and we’re in the middle of a legitimate health crisis. The largest spikes appear to be in East Coast states like Maryland, Florida, Pennsylvania and Maine, but other states like Ohio have seen as much as a 25 percent increase in overdose deaths since just last year. it’s gotten so bad in Ohio that they’ve been forced to store bodies in refrigerated trucks because there just isn’t room at the morgue.
What’s tricky is that many of these deaths can’t even be prescribed to heroin. Many recent overdoses have stemmed from instances of the aforementioned fentanyl, an extremely powerful opiate drug. Certain variations of fentanyl—such as carfentanil—can be up to 5,000 times more potent than heroin. This fentanyl and its analogs are even beginning to show up in less dangerous drugs, such as cocaine.
Initial reports from this year appear to show that deaths will rise yet again in 2017. It appears that difference in heroin use between the U.S.’ Western and Eastern states has kept the west relatively safe for now, but manufacturers seem likely to eventually start moving that way with their dangerous product.