CDC: Fentanyl pushes U.S. to record fatal drug overdose rate, 72,000 killed in 2017 alone

CDC: Fentanyl pushes U.S. to record fatal drug overdose rate, 72,000 killed in 2017 alone. (ABC7)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) — Around 72,000 Americans died at the hands of drug use in 2017. That's not only more people than the entire city of Frederick, but also a new record for the U.S.

“We envision a world where fewer lives are lost to addiction," said Jessica Hulsey Nickel of the Addiction Policy Forum.

Hulsey Nickel lost her father and mother to heroin use in 2001 and 2008, respectively. That prompted the mother of three to create her non-profit agency, which now boasts 48 employees, 30 chapters and three offices in Chicago, D.C. and New York.

According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 17,000 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S. in 1999. That figure has gradually grown every year since. This week the CDC announced 72,000 people fatally overdosed on drugs in 2017. That is a 323 percent increase from 1999.

Fentanyl, which can by up to 100 times more potent that morphine, is being blamed for a large percentage of the fatalities. Dealers are lacing traditional heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, even marijuana with the synthetic narcotic. And unlike heroin, which requires agricultural ingredients, people can make fentanyl in a basement.

“We knew it was coming, but to see those numbers finalized and out in print, it’s heartbreaking," Hulsey Nickel remarked. "These are real families that are losing their loved ones to an entirely preventable and treatable disease.”

The CDC says West Virginia has the highest national fatal drug overdose rate (per capita) at 58.7 deaths per 100,000 people. D.C. (50.4), Pennsylvania (44.1), Ohio (44.0) and Maryland (37.9) round out the top five.

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting Thursday, President Trump announced he is directing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to file a federal lawsuit against a number of companies that supply and manufacture opioids. No deadlines for such a filing were shared.

"Whatever you can do from a legal standpoint – whether it's litigation, lawsuits, for people and companies," Trump told Sessions. "In China, you have some pretty big companies sending that garbage and killing our people. It's almost a form of warfare."

In the meantime, the Addiction Policy Forum is pushing an "edgy" one-page flier that provides drug users with pointed advice, such as, never use alone, go slow on injections, always carry naloxone, and don't use at the same time as a friend, but rather in 30 minutes intervals.

Hulsey Nickel compares it to traffic laws, which are consistently broken, but police still work to educate drivers on the safest ways to use an automobile whether or not they're driving legally.

“The people that we lose every day to drug overdoses, about 70-percent of them had a previous non-fatal overdose," Hulsey Nickel shared. "We need to make sure we keep them alive because we can't get them to treatment if we can't keep them safe and with us."

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