Overdose Now Leading Cause of Death for Americans Under Age 50

fentanyl 2Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had a sobering message for the media on Tuesday about the country’s staggering opioid epidemic – it’s getting worse – and drug overdose is now the leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 50.

On Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the acting head of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Chuck Rosenberg, addressed the media at DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia about the staggering opioid epidemic in America and the toll it is taking on this country.

“People are dying of drug overdoses in record numbers,” Rosenstein said. “We are not talking about a slight increase. There is a horrifying surge in drug overdoses.”

Calling it a “clear and present threat to our nation,” Rosenstein went on to say that in 2015, more than 52,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, which amounts to 1,000 deaths per week. And of that number, 33,000 died from heroin, fentanyl and other opioid drugs.

“The preliminary numbers for 2016 show an increase to almost 60,000 deaths. That will be the largest annual increase in American history,” he said. “For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses now are the leading cause of death.”

Every one of those overdose victims represents a lost parent, child, or friend, he said.

“Opioid drugs are causing unprecedented destruction in our communities. On an average day, 90 Americans will die from an opioid-related overdose. About four people will overdose and die while we sit here this morning. They leave behind parents, spouses, children, and friends.”

For example, the crisis has become so bad that officials in Summit County, Ohio had to request refrigerated trailers to store the bodies of overdose victims because they ran out of room in the county morgue.

In New England, reporters spoke to a detective who saw nine overdoses in a single shift and a mother who lost two of her three sons to the epidemic.

Less than two years ago, on the west side of Chicago, 74 people overdosed in a single 72-hour period after using fentanyl-laced heroin.

According to the CDC, the five states with the highest rates of death linked to drug overdose are West Virginia (41.5 per 100,000), New Hampshire (34.3 per 100,000), Kentucky (29.9 per 100,000), Ohio (29.9 per 100,000), and Rhode Island (28.2 per 100,000).

One of the reasons behind this dramatic spike in overdose deaths is the increasing prevalence of fentanyl, the same drug that killed Prince last year. A particularly dangerous drug that is 30 to 50 times more deadly than heroin, it was originally created for use in treating severe pain in patients, particularly those suffering from late-stage cancer. 

However, Mexican drug cartels and the Chinese are manufacturing a synthetic form of the drug and exporting it into the United States where drug dealers use it to intensify the effects of heroin, cocaine, and other illicit drugs, often without the users’ knowledge.

Just two milligrams of Fentanyl – which is the equivalent of a few grains of table salt – can be lethal.

Not only does it kill its victims within minutes of ingestion, it’s also endangering the lives of first responders and police officers who respond to overdose calls. 

“Just a few weeks ago, a police officer in East Liverpool, Ohio nearly died from exposure to an extremely potent opioid, most likely a fentanyl-related compound. The officer had pulled over a car and noticed an unidentified white powder in the vehicle. The officer took precautions by putting on gloves and a mask for personal protection,” Rosenstein said.

“When the officer returned to the police station, another officer pointed out that he had powder on his shirt. Instinctively, he brushed off the powder while not wearing gloves. About an hour later, he collapsed. That officer had to be treated with four doses of naloxone. Luckily, he survived and is recovering.”

A few weeks ago, a sheriff in his home state of Maryland responded to an overdose scene where he was exposed to opioids and needed a dose of Narcan to reverse the effects.

“The spread of fentanyl means that any encounter a law enforcement officer has with an unidentified white powder could be fatal,” Rosenstein said.

As a result, the DEA issued a new set of guidelines for first responders and law enforcement personnel aimed at keeping them safe as they respond to this growing crisis.

“The opioid epidemic nationwide has caused havoc and heartbreak for our children, friends and neighbors,” Rosenstein said. “Any fentanyl exposure can kill innocent law enforcement, first responders and the public. As we continue to fight this epidemic, it is critical that we provide every tool necessary to educate the public and law enforcement about the dangers of fentanyl and its deadly consequences.”

US authorities are also working closely with their counterparts in China which is a major source of the fentanyl that enters the country. The Chinese government has agreed to ban 116 synthetic opioids for export with additional synthetics scheduled to be banned in the near future.

Click here to read more about the dangers of fentanyl.

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