CDC: Opioid overdose deaths on the rise, driven by synthetic drug use

Hydrocodone opioid pills
Overdose deaths increased 28% between 2015 and 2016, according to the CDC. (Getty/smartstock)

As the Trump administration pushes forward with efforts to curb the opioid epidemic, overdose deaths are still on the rise across the country, according to a new report. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 42,249 people died of an opioid overdose in 2016, accounting for 66.4% of all drug overdose deaths that year. Between 2015 and 2016, opioid-related deaths increased 9,158, or 27.9%.

The increase was driven primarily by a higher number of overdoses linked to powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which doubled between 2015 and 2016 and accounted for 45.9% of all opioid deaths in 2016. However, the number of opioid deaths linked to prescriptions and heroin also increased by 10.6% and 19.5%, respectively, in that window. 

"The ongoing and worsening drug overdose epidemic requires immediate action and attention," the CDC said. "Faster access to data collected is needed to understand emerging threats in local communities and to tailor response activities." 

RELATED: HHS appoints two new advisers to tackle the opioid epidemic and drug pricing reform 

The CDC's findings align with other recent federal studies. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released a report last year that found 11.8 million people misused opioids in 2016, accounting for about 4.4% of the population over the age of 12. 

That report also found that opioid-related deaths are on the rise, and the number of deaths linked to heroin alone has increased by 630% since 2002. 

Addressing the opioid epidemic has been a major focus of the Trump administration, with Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar including the crisis as one prong in his four-part plan for the agency. 

President Donald Trump also outlined a three-part plan to address the epidemic, which calls for increasing access to addiction treatment, better education on the risks and harsher punishments—even the death penalty—for drug traffickers. 

RELATED: Attorney General Jeff Sessions says government will increase scrutiny on providers who prescribe opioids 

Robert R. Redfield, M.D., the CDC's newly appointed director, told agency staff at a meeting this week that he is ready to hit the ground running on a response to the opioid crisis, saying it is the "public health crisis of our time," the Associated Press reported

"We will help bring this epidemic to its knees," Redfield told CDC staff.