US & Canada

Drug overdose deaths in the US reach record levels

Abuse of prescription medications such as oxycontin is fuelling a rise in overdoses Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Abuse of prescription medications such as oxycontin is fuelling a rise in overdoses

More than 47,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2014 - the most ever recorded in one year, US officials say.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on Friday that showed overdose deaths jumped 7% from just one year earlier.

The spike in deaths has coincided with a rapid rise in the abuse of opioid-based prescription painkillers such as oxycontin and hydrocodone.

The CDC said 61% of the deaths involved some type of opioid, including heroin.

Many abusers of painkillers shift to using heroin as it becomes harder to obtain the prescription medications.

"The United States is experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose (poisoning) deaths," the CDC's report reads.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A recent increase in heroin use in the US is also contributing to overdose deaths, the CDC says

The report found significant increases in overdoses in 14 states across the country. All regions of the US - including the Northeast and the South - were affected.

Overdose deaths are up in both men and women, in non-Hispanic whites and blacks, and in adults of nearly all ages, the report said.

Rural West Virginia had one of the worse overdose rates in the US. The state rate was 35.5 per 100,000 people; the national rate was about 15 per 100,000.

In addition to drug treatment, the CDC urged increased use of naloxone, an overdose antidote.

Many police departments across the country have begun equipping officers with the fast-acting remedy in an effort to save lives.

The health agency has also provided guidelines for general practitioners that urge them to be more cautious about the medications they prescribe for chronic pain.

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