Increase in Drug Overdose Deaths Driven Largely by Heroin and Synthetic Opioids

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, drug overdose deaths in the United States increased between 2013 and 2014, driven in large part by continued sharp increases in heroin deaths and an emerging increase in deaths involving illicit synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl.

  • Prescription opioid-related deaths increased by 16 percent, or 2,658 deaths, compared to 2013 data. There were 18,893 overdose deaths involving prescription opioids.
  • Prescription opioid-related overdose deaths are increasing in part because deaths involving synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and tramadol, increased by 79 percent from 2013-2014. About 5,544 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids in 2014.
  • Heroin-related death rates increased 28 percent from 2013-2014, totaling 10,574deaths in 2014.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have been investigating recent increases in fentanyl-related overdose fatalities in multiple states across the country. Earlier this year, DEA issued a nationwide alert on fentanyl, and CDC issued a health advisory on fentanyl with recommendations for public health departments, health care providers, first responders, and medical examiners and coroners.