Opioid deaths hit 33,091 in 2015, quadrupling since 1999. Heroin deaths in particular rose 23 percent year over year to 12,989; synthetic opioid deaths rose 73 percent to 9,580.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this. Certainly not in modern times,” Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch of the CDC, told the Associated Press.
The new figures are a tragic expression of the United States’ urgent addiction problem. As it stands, more than 20 million Americans have a substance use disorder and 12.5 million report misusing prescriptions painkillers, behaviors linked to the aggressive marketing and overprescription of opioids in the 1980s-90s.
It doesn’t take long for prescription use to evolve into misuse. According to a new Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey, a third of Americans who took a prescription opioid for two months or longer became addicted to or physically dependent on painkillers.