Deaths from synthetic opioids up 72%, CDC says

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

By Debra Goldschmidt, CNN

Death rates from synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, increased 72.2% from 2014 to 2015, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. The new report confirms the dramatic increase in opioid overdoses that first responders have been seeing as they respond to overdose calls.

Fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin and made headlines as the drug that killed pop star Prince in April. The elephant tranquilizer carfentanil, a form of fentanyl and 10,000 times stronger than morphine, has also been claiming lives in a number of cities, as reported by local officials.

Related: Utah ranks fourth highest in the nation for deaths related to opioids.

The new report says the latest available data found that 33,091 people died from opioid overdoses in 2015. That number combines prescription and illegal forms of the painkiller that can also send users into a state of euphoria. They account for 63% of the 52,000 deaths from any type of drug overdose in 2015, up from 2014, when 61% of fatal overdoses were due to opioids.

No one is immune to the crisis. The increasing death rates were seen in men and women of all ethnicities and across all age groups, starting at age 15.

Geography is not protective, either. When looking at overdose fatalities from 2010 to 2015, increases were found in 30 states and Washington DC.

During the same period, the number of heroin deaths increased by 20.6%, the report found. Eleven states reported increases in heroin deaths, with South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee seeing the greatest increases.

Synthetic opioid deaths increased in 16 states. New York was hit hardest, with a 135.7% increase from 2014 to 2015. Nearby Connecticut saw a 125.9% increase, and Illinois had a 120% increase in deaths from synthetic opioids.

Deaths from so-called natural opioids, which include the prescription medications morphine and codeine, and semi-synthetic opioids, which include the prescription drugs oxycodone and hydrocodone, decreased 2.6% from 2014 to 2015. However, they are still responsible for more than 12,700 deaths.

Fatalities from methadone, used to treat heroine addiction, dropped by 9.1%.

The new statistics are based on national records for causes of death.

“Today’s report shows significant increases across states in death rates from heroin and synthetic opioid deaths, coupled with continuing high numbers of fatal overdoses related to natural/semi-synthetic opioid deaths,” the CDC said in a statement. The further illustrates “the continued problem with misuse of prescription opioids and the substantial impact of illicit opioids on this epidemic”. The CDC also reiterated the need for law enforcement and health officials to work together to control the epidemic.