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Opioid Overdoses Rise as Epidemic Worsens

A full syringe, empty syringe and spoon sit on the roof of the car in which a man in his 20’s overdosed on an opioid in the Boston suburb of Lynn, Mass., August 14, 2017. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

New data show that opioid-related overdoses rose by almost 28 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Around two-thirds of the 63,632 Americans killed by drug overdoses in 2016 overdosed on opioids, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What’s more, what originated as a crisis among blue-collar white Americans in rural areas appears to be spreading: The report showed black opioid-overdose deaths more than doubled, and such deaths rose by over a third in cities.

“No area of the United States is exempt from this epidemic — we all know a friend, family member, or loved one devastated by opioids,” said CDC principal deputy director Anne Schuchat.

President Trump has declared the crisis a national public-health emergency, and made it a priority of his administration. He vowed to crack down on drug smuggling and has proposed giving the death penalty to the worst drug dealers. He has also said he wants to lower opioid prescriptions by a third over the next three years, while Congress has set aside $6 billion to combat the epidemic over the next two years.

Part of the problem is the rise of opioid prescriptions, which often lead to heroin addiction after patients become dependent on painkilling medication. The more unwieldy issue, though, is the skyrocketing availability of illegal synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl, which is easier to overdose on since it is particularly potent. Deaths from these synthetic drugs more than doubled from 2015 to 2016.

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