Bleak New Estimates in Drug Epidemic: A Record 72,000 Overdose Deaths in 2017

Fentanyl is a big culprit, but there are also encouraging signs from states that have prioritized public health campaigns and addiction treatment.

A large government telephone survey suggests that around 2.1 million Americans had opioid use disorders in 2016, but that number may be an undercount because not all drug users have telephones and some may not mention their drug use because of the stigma. Dr. Ciccarone said the real number could be as high as four million.

The number of opioid users has been going up “in most places, but not at this exponential rate,” said Brandon Marshall, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health. “The dominant factor is the changing drug supply.”

Strong synthetic opioids like fentanyl and its analogues have become mixed into black-market supplies of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and the class of anti-anxiety medicines known as benzodiazepines. Unlike heroin, which is derived from poppy plants, fentanyl can be manufactured in a laboratory, and it is often easier to transport because it is more concentrated.

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