Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller, has finally topped heroin as America’s deadliest drug, according to an announcement by federal health officials Wednesday.
It’s the first time the synthetic opioid has been the nation’s deadliest drug. From 2012 to 2015, heroin topped the list.
On average, in each year from 2013 to 2016, the rate of overdose deaths from Fentanyl increased by about 113 percent a year. The report said fentanyl was responsible for 29 percent of all overdose deaths in 2016, up from just 4 percent in 2011.
Overall, more than 63,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016, according to the report, which was prepared by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s an average of 174 deaths a day.
The study also said many people who die from overdoses have multiple drugs in their system. “We’ve had a tendency to think of these drugs in isolation,” Dr. Holly Hedegaard, lead author of the report, told HuffPost. “It’s not really what’s happening.”
As an example, roughly 40 percent of people listed as dying of a cocaine overdose also had fentanyl in their system.
After declines earlier in the decade, the report said, overdose deaths from both cocaine and methamphetamine were starting to rise again.
The study said illegal drugs such as fentanyl and heroin were the primary causes of unintentional overdoses, while prescription drugs such as oxycodone tended to be used in suicide overdoses.
Fentanyl was first developed to relieve pain in cancer patients.