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Concept: Drug overdose


The U.S. opioid epidemic is continuing, and drug overdose deaths nearly tripled during 1999-2014. Among 47,055 drug overdose deaths that occurred in 2014 in the United States, 28,647 (60.9%) involved an opioid (1). Illicit opioids are contributing to the increase in opioid overdose deaths (2,3). In an effort to target prevention strategies to address the rapidly changing epidemic, CDC examined overall drug overdose death rates during 2010-2015 and opioid overdose death rates during 2014-2015 by subcategories (natural/semisynthetic opioids, methadone, heroin, and synthetic opioids other than methadone).* Rates were stratified by demographics, region, and by 28 states with high quality reporting on death certificates of specific drugs involved in overdose deaths. During 2015, drug overdoses accounted for 52,404 U.S. deaths, including 33,091 (63.1%) that involved an opioid. There has been progress in preventing methadone deaths, and death rates declined by 9.1%. However, rates of deaths involving other opioids, specifically heroin and synthetic opioids other than methadone (likely driven primarily by illicitly manufactured fentanyl) (2,3), increased sharply overall and across many states. A multifaceted, collaborative public health and law enforcement approach is urgently needed. Response efforts include implementing the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain (4), improving access to and use of prescription drug monitoring programs, enhancing naloxone distribution and other harm reduction approaches, increasing opioid use disorder treatment capacity, improving linkage into treatment, and supporting law enforcement strategies to reduce the illicit opioid supply.

Concepts: United States, Drugs, Opioid, Morphine, Heroin, Naloxone, Drug overdose, Opioid overdose


During 1999‒2015, 568,699 persons died from drug overdoses in the United States.* Drug overdose deaths in the United States increased 11.4% from 2014 to 2015 resulting in 52,404 deaths in 2015, including 33,091 (63.1%) that involved an opioid. The largest rate increases from 2014 to 2015 occurred among deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (synthetic opioids) (72.2%) (1). Because of demographic and geographic variations in overdose deaths involving different drugs (2,3),†CDC examined age-adjusted death rates for overdoses involving all opioids, opioid subcategories (i.e., prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic opioids),§cocaine, and psychostimulants with abuse potential (psychostimulants) by demographics, urbanization levels, and in 31 states and the District of Columbia (DC). There were 63,632 drug overdose deaths in 2016; 42,249 (66.4%) involved an opioid.¶From 2015 to 2016, deaths increased across all drug categories examined. The largest overall rate increases occurred among deaths involving cocaine (52.4%) and synthetic opioids (100%), likely driven by illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) (2,3). Increases were observed across demographics, urbanization levels, and states and DC. The opioid overdose epidemic in the United States continues to worsen. A multifaceted approach, with faster and more comprehensive surveillance, is needed to track emerging threats to prevent and respond to the overdose epidemic through naloxone availability, safe prescribing practices, harm-reduction services, linkage into treatment, and more collaboration between public health and public safety agencies.

Concepts: Demography, Drugs, Opioid, Morphine, Drug addiction, Heroin, Naloxone, Drug overdose


Preliminary estimates of U.S. drug overdose deaths exceeded 60,000 in 2016 and were partially driven by a fivefold increase in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (excluding methadone), from 3,105 in 2013 to approximately 20,000 in 2016 (1,2). Illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50-100 times more potent than morphine, is primarily responsible for this rapid increase (3,4). In addition, fentanyl analogs such as acetylfentanyl, furanylfentanyl, and carfentanil are being detected increasingly in overdose deaths (5,6) and the illicit opioid drug supply (7). Carfentanil is estimated to be 10,000 times more potent than morphine (8). Estimates of the potency of acetylfentanyl and furanylfentanyl vary but suggest that they are less potent than fentanyl (9). Estimates of relative potency have some uncertainty because illicit fentanyl analog potency has not been evaluated in humans. This report describes opioid overdose deaths during July-December 2016 that tested positive for fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, or U-47700, an illicit synthetic opioid, in 10 states participating in CDC’s Enhanced State Opioid Overdose Surveillance (ESOOS) program.* Fentanyl analogs are similar in chemical structure to fentanyl but not routinely detected because specialized toxicology testing is required. Fentanyl was detected in at least half of opioid overdose deaths in seven of 10 states, and 57% of fentanyl-involved deaths also tested positive for other illicit drugs, such as heroin. Fentanyl analogs were present in >10% of opioid overdose deaths in four states, with carfentanil, furanylfentanyl, and acetylfentanyl identified most frequently. Expanded surveillance for opioid overdoses, including testing for fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, assists in tracking the rapidly changing illicit opioid market and informing innovative interventions designed to reduce opioid overdose deaths.

Concepts: Drug, Opioid, Morphine, Drug addiction, Heroin, Naloxone, Opioids, Drug overdose


From 2015 to 2016, opioid overdose deaths increased 27.7%, indicating a worsening of the opioid overdose epidemic and highlighting the importance of rapid data collection, analysis, and dissemination.

Concepts: Naloxone, Drug overdose, Opioid overdose, 2016


To assess the pharmacokinetic properties of community-use formulations of naloxone for emergency treatment of opioid overdose.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Opioid, Morphine, Heroin, Naloxone, Route of administration, Pharmacokinetics, Drug overdose


To provide an update on prescription of naloxone as a harm-reduction strategy, PubMed was searched to identify publications relevant to naloxone prescribing for reversal of opioid overdose. Opportunities now exist to expand naloxone use, although evidence suggests these are often missed or underexploited. The US FDA has approved an intranasal naloxone spray and an autoinjector naloxone formulation for community use. Effective use of naloxone in community settings requires screening to identify patients at risk of opioid overdose, discussing naloxone use with patients and their relatives, and providing appropriate training. The tools exist to expand the use of naloxone more widely into the community, thereby creating an opportunity to reduce opioid overdose fatalities.

Concepts: Prescription drug, Morphine, Heroin, Naloxone, Over-the-counter drug, Food and Drug Administration, Drug overdose, Drug Enforcement Administration


Opioid overdose deaths quadrupled from 8,050 in 1999 to 33,091 in 2015 and accounted for 63% of drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2015. During 2010-2015, heroin overdose deaths quadrupled from 3,036 to 12,989 (1). Sharp increases in the supply of heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) are likely contributing to increased deaths (2-6). CDC examined trends in unintentional and undetermined deaths involving heroin or synthetic opioids excluding methadone (i.e., synthetic opioids)* by the four U.S. Census regions during 2006-2015. Drug exhibits (i.e., drug products) obtained by law enforcement and reported to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA’s) National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) that tested positive for heroin or fentanyl (i.e., drug reports) also were examined. All U.S. Census regions experienced substantial increases in deaths involving heroin from 2006 to 2015. Since 2010, the South and West experienced increases in heroin drug reports, whereas the Northeast and Midwest experienced steady increases during 2006-2015.(†) In the Northeast, Midwest, and South, deaths involving synthetic opioids and fentanyl drug reports increased considerably after 2013. These broad changes in the U.S. illicit drug market highlight the urgent need to track illicit drugs and enhance public health interventions targeting persons using or at high risk for using heroin or IMF.

Concepts: United States, Drug, Opioid, Morphine, Heroin, Naloxone, Illegal drug trade, Drug overdose


Illicit use of high-potency synthetic opioids has become a global issue over the past decade. This misuse is particularly pronounced in British Columbia, Canada, where a rapid increase in availability of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in the local illicit drug supply during 2016 led to a substantial increase in overdoses and deaths. In response, distribution of take-home naloxone (THN) overdose prevention kits was scaled up (6·4-fold increase) throughout the province. The aim of this study was to estimate the impact of the THN programme in terms of the number of deaths averted over the study period.

Concepts: Opioid, Morphine, Heroin, Naloxone, Canada, Buprenorphine, Drug overdose, Vancouver


The rate of death from overdoses of prescription opioids in the United States more than quadrupled between 1999 and 2010 (see graph), far exceeding the combined death toll from cocaine and heroin overdoses.(1) In 2010 alone, prescription opioids were involved in 16,651 overdose deaths, whereas heroin was implicated in 3036. Some 82% of the deaths due to prescription opioids and 92% of those due to heroin were classified as unintentional, with the remainder being attributed predominantly to suicide or “undetermined intent.” Rates of emergency department visits and substance-abuse treatment admissions related to prescription opioids have also increased markedly. In 2007, . . .

Concepts: Death, United States, Morphine, Heroin, Naloxone, Psychoactive drug, Methadone, Drug overdose


On August 15, 2016, the Mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy in Huntington, West Virginia, notified the Cabell-Huntington Health Department (CHHD) of multiple calls regarding opioid overdose received by the emergency medical system (EMS) during 3 p.m.-8 p.m. that day. A public health investigation and response conducted by the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health (BPH) and CHHD identified 20 opioid overdose cases within a 53-hour period in Cabell County; all cases included emergency department (ED) encounters. EMS personnel, other first responders, and ED providers administered the opioid antidote naloxone to 16 (80%) patients, six of whom were administered multiple doses, suggesting exposure to a highly potent opioid. No patients received referral for recovery support services. In addition to the public health investigation, a public safety investigation was conducted; comprehensive opioid toxicology testing of clinical specimens identified the synthetic opioid fentanyl* and novel fentanyl analogs, including carfentanil,(†) which had been used by patients who overdosed in Huntington. Results of these two investigations highlight the importance of collaboration between public health and public safety agencies to provide in-depth surveillance data from opioid overdose outbreaks that involve high-potency fentanyl analogs. These data facilitated a public health response through increased awareness of powerful opioid substances requiring multiple naloxone doses for reversal, and improved patient linkage to recovery support services and a harm reduction program from the ED after opioid overdose.

Concepts: Opioid, Morphine, Heroin, Naloxone, Emergency medical services, Drug overdose, Huntington, West Virginia, Cabell County, West Virginia