EW YORK — More than 50,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, the most ever.

The disastrous tally has been pushed to new heights by soaring abuse of heroin and prescription painkillers, a class of drugs known as opioids.

Heroin deaths rose 23 percent in one year, to 12,989, slightly higher than the number of gun homicides, according to government data released Thursday.


Deaths from synthetic opioids, including illicit fentanyl, rose 73 percent to 9,580. And prescription painkillers took the highest toll, but posted the smallest increase. Abuse of drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin killed 17,536, an increase of 4 percent.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this. Certainly not in modern times,” said Robert Anderson, who oversees death statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new numbers were part of the agency’s annual tally of deaths and death rates in 2015.

Overall, overdose deaths rose 11 percent last year, to 52,404. By comparison, the number of people who died in car crashes was 37,757, an increase of 12 percent. Gun deaths, including homicides and suicides, totaled 36,252, up 7 percent.

As part of its annual report the CDC also found that rates for 8 of the 10 leading causes of death rose last year, causing the nation’s life expectancy to go down for the first time in more than 20 years. Drug overdoses were a significant factor, but an unexpected increase in the death rate from heart disease, the nation’s No. 1 killer, was another major reason.

— Mike Stobbe

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  • We lost our son in July 2014 at age 22 from Heroin overdose after a long eight year spiral into drug use which started with abusing marijuana. During these years he easily bought illegal drugs as well as prescription drugs from his friends parents medicine cabinets… He also purchased synthetic packaged drugs from “Smoke Shops” also called “Head Shops” which sale their harmful addictive products in decorated packages, call them different names and can legally sale them. Our son was sold “bath salts” from a Smoke shop which he crushed and snorted. The product ate holes in his brain and was causing liver damage and his body to shut down within one week of daily use. He was delusional and put into ICU for two days. He survived it but damage done… Society has a whole has to make changes. People have to be educated on the disease of addiction, doctors have to be more restricted on writing prescriptions, much tighter border control, Smoke shops regulated, kids taught about the dangers of drugs use and what they are saying no to. “Just Say No” is not working anymore and Red Ribbon Week has become more about door decorating and dress up than the seriousness of drug use in most schools. A change of mind set and the ability to deal with stress and pain has to start at a young age so as people get older they will not rely so much on pain killers and drugs which alter the brain. Xanax was very easy for Hayden to get and so addictive. He later took up Heroin and this became his drug of choice. Families should not have to live the way we did with our son during his battle. Society has much work to do to combat this problem.

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