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Rates of Drug Overdose Deaths Continue to Rise, More Action Needed to Reverse Troubling Trends

Combating opioid abuse and curbing related deaths is a complex challenge and is a top priority for the Administration and for HHS.

New CDC data shows the overall number and rate of drug overdose deaths increased notably between 2013-2014, driven in large part by continued increases in heroin deaths and an emerging increase in deaths involving illicit synthetic opioids. These new data reaffirm that we have not seen the peak of the opioid abuse and overdose epidemic and highlights the need for continued action to prevent opioid misuse and dependence to save lives. 

Drug overdose death rates have never been higher. Data shows 18,893 overdose deaths involving opioid pain relievers in 2014, which is an increase of 16%, or 2,658 deaths, compared to 2013 data. Prescription opioid-related overdose deaths are increasing in part because deaths involving synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and tramadol, increased by 79% from 2013-2014, totaling 5,544 deaths in 2014. Heroin-related deaths have more than tripled since 2010. Heroin-related death rates increased 28% from 2013-2014, totaling 10,574 deaths in 2014. Heroin is often cut with fentanyl – with or without the user’s knowledge – in order to increase its effect.

The opioid epidemic touches all of us. HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell’s home state of West Virginia, for example, has the highest drug overdose death rate of any state in the country. These statistics reflect what we’re seeing across America, in communities large and small and among people from all walks of life - a rising tide of opioid abuse and overdose. 

Combating opioid abuse and curbing related deaths is a complex challenge and is a top priority for the Administration and for HHS.  At HHS, Secretary Burwell announced earlier this year intensified efforts to combat opioid overdose, dependence and deaths. To fight this epidemic, we are focusing on three key areas: improving opioid prescribing practices, expanding the use of medication-assisted treatment for people who are addicted, and increasing the use of naloxone – a drug that reverses an opioid overdose.

This past fall, the Secretary and HHS hosted representatives from all 50 states and Washington, DC for a convening to discuss ways we can work together to prevent opioid overdose and opioid use disorder. HHS is also exploring ways to expand access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) by revising the regulations related to the prescribing of buprenorphine to treat opioid dependence.  And the agency also recently announced $1.8 million in awards to rural communities to expand access to naloxone.

We know there is more work to be done. And we at HHS are focused on evidence-based actions we can take to impact the opioid epidemic – both now and in the long term – to reverse the trends we’re seeing and to save more lives.

Rates of drug overdose deaths continue to rise, more action needed to reverse troubling trends →

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