Report: Drug overdose deaths surge across US to highest level since at least 1970

By on December 20, 2015


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NEW YORK—Drug overdose deaths surged across the U.S. to the highest level since at least 1970, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC released the overall tally last week. On Friday it provided more details, including numbers for individual states.

For the nation, overdose deaths last year surpassed 47,000—up 7 percent from the previous year.

The count includes deaths involving powerful painkillers, sedatives, heroin, cocaine and other legal and illicit drugs.

West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio had the highest overdose death rates. In West Virginia, the overdose rate was 35.5 per 100,000; the national rate was about 15 per 100,000.

State rates are calculated to provide a more balanced comparison between states given the differences in population size.

In sheer numbers, California—the most populous state—had the most overdose deaths last year, with more than 4,500. Ohio was second, with more than 2,700.

The numbers are based on death certificates. Nearly half a million Americans died from drug overdoses from 2000 through 2014, the CDC says.

Drug overdoses—particularly those from prescription opioid painkillers—has become a priority issue for the Atlanta-based CDC. The agency this week released draft guidelines for family doctors, encouraging them to be more careful about prescribing opioids for chronic pain.

Associated Press Writer Mike Stobbe contributed to this report.