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Record Number of Deaths Due to Overdoses in 2014

CDC report finds fatal drug overdoses surged in 14 states

Drug overdose death rates went up in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Associated Press says overdose deaths last year surpassed 47,000 — up 7% from the previous year. That's the most reported in the U.S. since at least 1970, according to CDC records.

The count includes deaths involving powerful painkillers, sedatives, heroin, cocaine, and other legal and illicit drugs. West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Ohio had the highest overdose death rates. In West Virginia, the overdose rate was 35.5 per 100,000; the national rate was about 15 per 100,000. State rates are calculated to provide a more balanced comparison between states given the differences in population size.

In sheer numbers, California — the most populous state — had the most overdose deaths last year, with more than 4,500. Ohio was second, with more than 2,700. The numbers are based on death certificates. Nearly half a million Americans died from drug overdoses from 2000 through 2014, the CDC says.

Drug overdoses, particularly those from prescription opioid painkillers, have become a priority issue for the CDC. The agency has released draft guidelines for family doctors, encouraging them to be more careful about prescribing opioids for chronic pain.

The Washington Post added that deaths from prescription drug overdoses had leveled off at about 16,000 annually until 2014, the data show. Heroin deaths, however, rapidly escalated starting in 2010. Authorities have said that government crackdowns on illegal pills pushed users to turn to heroin, which became cheaper and more widely available as drug cartels greatly increased their trafficking in the eastern United States.

Source: Associated Press, December 18, 2015; Washington Post, December 18, 2015.

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