By Christine Vestal
Nearly 72,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2017, about 7 percent more than in the previous year, according to new provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although the use of prescription painkillers has declined nationwide, analysts say the presence of the deadly opioid fentanyl in the illicit drug supply is the primary cause for the continued surge in deaths.
States with the highest increases in drug deaths include Nebraska (33 percent), North Carolina (23 percent), New Jersey (21 percent), Indiana (15 percent), Arkansas (11 percent), Maine (11 percent), West Virginia (11 percent), South Carolina (10 percent) and Tennessee (10 percent).
Though the number of deaths rose in most states last year, the number of fatal drug overdoses declined in 14 states, including Rhode Island (minus 7 percent), Vermont (minus 6 percent) and Massachusetts (minus 1 percent). The opioid epidemic hit earlier and harder in New England than in other parts of the country. A recent report from Massachusetts indicates the downward trend in drug deaths in that state may continue.
In addition to the three New England states, overdose deaths fell in Wyoming (minus 33 percent), Utah (minus 12 percent), Oklahoma (minus 9 percent), Montana (minus 8 percent), South Dakota (minus 8 percent), Hawaii (minus 5 percent), Kansas (minus 2 percent), Mississippi (minus 2 percent), New Mexico (minus 2 percent) and North Dakota (minus 1 percent).
The opioid epidemic began in the late 1990s. Since then, drug deaths have been rising steadily every year, killing more people every year than automobile accidents.