Last year, representatives from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention sent out a grisly statistic: More than 52,400 people died after overdosing on drugs in 2015.
“A multifaceted, collaborative public health and law enforcement approach is urgently needed,” researchers wrote in their report.
Since then, the problem — which began as early as 1980 — has continued to worsen, ramping up in speed and scale.
In 2016, more than 59,000 people died from drug overdoses, according to a recent New York Times investigation. That figure, writes Times reporter Josh Katz, represents “the largest annual jump ever recorded.”
A single class of drug is at the center of the deaths: opioids. While some of these drugs are legal and frequently prescribed by doctors for pain relief, they can also be addictive in ways similar to illegal opioids like heroin.
Between 2010 and 2015, efforts aimed at getting doctors to reduce their prescription of legal opioids appeared to be linked with a slight slow-down of deaths involving some drugs. But over the same time period, deaths involving heroin tripled. Similarly, deaths involving drugs like fentanyl and tramadol also rose, highlighting the efforts that are still needed to address the crisis.
Preliminary data indicates that drug overdose deaths are likely to keep rising this year, Katz writes.