Drug overdoses are not only now killing more Americans than guns, they’ve also made the nation’s life expectancy go down for the first time in more than 20 years.
Abuse of heroin, synthetic opioids, and prescription painkillers killed more than 52,404 Americans in 2015, according to government data released Thursday.
The death figures come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) annual death and death rate tally.
“The epidemic of deaths involving opioids continues to worsen,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden in a White House news release. “Prescription opioid misuse and use of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl are intertwined and deeply troubling problems.”
While prescription painkillers took the largest toll, synthetic opioids saw the highest increase: 17,536 of last year’s deaths came from drugs such as Vicodin and OxyContin, a four percent increase from the previous year, while deaths from synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, increased 73 percent to 9,580. Meanwhile, heroin killed 12,990, an increase of 23 percent.
Overall, deaths relating to drug overdoses rose 11 percent last year, an unprecedented hike.
“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 CDC, to the AP.
In comparison, gun deaths — including homicides and suicides — totaled 36,252, a seven percent increase from the year before, while the number of people who died in car crashes increased 12 percent, jumping to 37,757.
Overall, the CDC discovered that, beyond drug overdoses alone, rates for eight of the ten leading causes of death had risen from the previous year.