In 2016, fentanyl officially overtook heroin as the nation's deadliest drug. That year, the synthetic opioid was linked to 18,335 deaths in the United States, compared with 15,961 attributed to heroin. Leading up to that event, the number of deaths attributed to fentanyl overdose almost doubled each year between 2013 and 2016.
To further flesh out this explosion: From 2011 through the third quarter of 2013, there were fewer than 500 fentanyl-involved deaths per quarter; contrast that with a steady increase from the last quarter of 2013 to the last quarter of 2016, which saw more than 5,800 fentanyl overdose deaths.
That's according to a new CDC report on drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl from 2011 to 2016(www.cdc.gov) that was released March 21. The report used data from the National Vital Statistics System - Mortality (NVSS-M) on multiple causes of death from 2011-16; NVSS-M contains information from death certificates on cause of death and demographic and geographic factors.
Breakdown of Report's Findings
Among demographic details from the report:
- Overall rates of fentanyl overdose deaths among non-Hispanic white people were greater than those seen in other racial/ethnic subgroups throughout the study period.
- Rates of fentanyl overdose deaths among non-Hispanic black people increased during the entire period by nearly 141 percent per year.
- Fentanyl overdose death rates among Hispanic people rose by about 118 percent per year.
- Rates for non-Hispanic whites remained fairly static from 2011 through 2013, but then shot up by almost 109 percent in each of the following years.
- A new CDC report on drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl found skyrocketing rates of mortality related to the drug across the board, especially among minorities.
- Another recent study from the agency that used "drug mentioned with involvement" methodology found that in 2016, fentanyl was the most frequently mentioned drug involved in overdose deaths -- up from 10th on the list in 2011.
- A recent analysis from Child Trends of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that youth of color (ages 21 and younger) were significantly less likely to receive treatment than white peers.
The CDC report also found that starting in 2013, rates of drug overdose deaths related to fentanyl for males started to increase more rapidly than for females; by 2016, the rate for males was 2.8 times that for females.
As for how these data broke down by age, the agency's report found that in 2016, the rates of fentanyl overdose deaths were highest among adults ages 25-34 and 35-44.
Finally, CDC researchers parsed the data by public health region and found that in 2016, rates of fentanyl-related overdose deaths were higher in the Northeast, South and Upper Midwest than those in the Midwest, Southwest or Pacific Northwest.
The March CDC report pointed to a study report the agency published late last year(www.cdc.gov) that used "drug mentioned with involvement" methodology and found that in 2016, fentanyl was the most frequently mentioned drug involved in unintentional overdose deaths -- up from 10th on the list in 2011.
That earlier study also showed that deaths that involved fentanyl also frequently involved other drugs, said the March study report, noting, for example, that in 2016, "nearly 70 percent of deaths involving fentanyl also involved one or more other drugs, such as heroin or cocaine."
Analysis of Treatment for Abuse in Youth
According to a recent analysis from Child Trends(www.childtrends.org) of data derived from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health,(www.datafiles.samhsa.gov) only a small portion of youth who report pain reliever abuse or dependence (including from opioids) are receiving addiction treatment.
Published on March 20, the analysis also found that youth of color ages 21 and younger were significantly less likely to receive treatment than their white peers -- a trend that has persisted almost every year since 2002, when deaths due to prescription opioids began to increase.
"As of 2016, 16.1 percent of white youth who abused pain relievers received treatment, compared to 16.7 percent in 2002," the analysis said. "Just 9.5 percent of youth of color who abused pain relievers received treatment in 2016 -- a 4.3 percentage point drop from 2002 (when 13.8 percent received treatment) and persistently lower than their white counterparts."
For this analysis, Child Trends explained, "youth of color" included black, Hispanic, Native American, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and Asian young people, as well as those who were multiracial.
"These groups were combined due to small sample sizes," the report acknowledged, "which is regrettable, since each group's experiences in attempting to access treatment are different."
The analysis concluded by suggesting that even if treatment becomes more readily available for youth of color, they may still be less likely to seek treatment than their white peers for a number of reasons.
"Youth of color are less likely to be insured, screened for substance abuse and referred to treatment by clinical providers," it said. "Treatment programs must be culturally tailored to the communities they serve and cognizant of these kinds of fraught histories."
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