small child lighting memorial candles symbolic of fentanyl deaths

According to a new CDC report, deadly fentanyl overdoses are now costing more lives than any other illicit drug. Fentanyl is an opioid similar to morphine, but 50 to 100 times more potent. Doctors use the drug in major surgeries and cancer treatment, but now that it’s become a street drug, drug dealers add it to other drugs like heroin or cocaine.

Fentanyl was the deadliest drug in 2016 according to the CDC, but heroin and oxycodone were the most dangerous in previous years. About 29% of drug overdose deaths involved fentanyl. However, as the drug shows up with other substances, fentanyl has often become a culprit without the user themselves knowing they ingested it. Overdoses of heroin and cocaine have also gone up, which may also be thanks to fentanyl.

Drug use trends aren’t getting better, either. Heroin overdoses tripled in 2016, and deadly overdoses of methamphetamines doubled.

Data on Overdoses

Gathering data on drug overdoses isn’t an exact science. Experts believe that even the CDC data is flawed and overdose rates are even higher than reported. Coroners and investigators sometimes miss an overdose death when results are inconclusive, or if a person’s heart stopped but the coroner can’t say drugs caused it. Multiple drugs in a person’s system also make it harder to determine the exact cause of death.

There is usually a backlog for testing blood samples, and state resources are stretched thin due to the opioid epidemic. A person may die from an overdose in June, but their family won’t find out until December or the next years.

Fentanyl is a dangerous drug that has permeated headlines in the past few years, and it’s doing real damage right now. In the past year, cocaine, K2, and even anxiety drugs like Xanax are sold as street formulations, often with the danger of fentanyl contamination.

Overdoses in many drug categories continue to rise, and that’s bad news for everyone. The drugs that caused the most overdoses in 2016 also included heroin, hydrocodone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, alprazolam, diazepam, cocaine, and methamphetamine.