U.S. Overdose Deaths at Record High

Cleveland Police Sgt. Timothy Maffo Judd               CBS News

In the 15-year stretch from 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 people in the United States were counted as having died from overdoses related to opioid pain medication.

The death count is the latest outcome of an escalating public health crisis: opioid addiction, now made more deadly by an influx of illicitly manufactured fentanyl and similar drugs.

That means that for the first time drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 years old.

Have you read the latest from the New York Times? Last year, drug overdose deaths likely surpassed 59,000, making it the largest yearly increase ever, according to The New York Times, which reported early findings this week.

The researchers also found that cocaine, a non-opioid, was involved in a relatively high number of the fentanyl deaths.

Robert Anderson, head the Mortality Statistics Branch of the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC, reviewed the newspaper's overdose estimates, and said the numbers seemed reasonable. By comparison, about 59,200 Americans died in the Vietnam war, which lasted nearly 20 years until 1975.

DeWine told NPR's "All Things Considered" that the drug companies lied to physicians to sell more of their opioid drugs: "We believe that the evidence will show that these pharmaceutical companies purposely misled doctors about the dangers connected with pain meds that they produced, and that they did so for the objective of increasing sales". It's not just drug abusers who overdose. The Drug Abuse Warning Network estimated that misuse or abuse of narcotic pain relievers were responsible for more than 420,000 emergency department visits in 2011, the most recent year for which we have data.

More than two million Americans have some sort of physical dependence on opioids - painkillers that are legally prescribed to many people, but can become addicting if they are taken in excess or for long periods of time.

Overdose deaths are now the leading cause of death among young Americans - killing more in a year than were ever killed annually by HIV, gun violence or auto crashes.

The powerful opioid fentanyl is far stronger than heroin - about 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

This is not because fewer people use drugs there, but that the distribution of deadlier ones - especially fentanyl - is not as high.

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