Fatal drug overdoses hit record high in US, government figures show | Society | The Guardian

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports drug overdoses in the US rose in 2014, driven by surges in deaths from heroin and powerful prescription painkillers. Photograph: SIMON RAWLEY / Alamy/Alamy

Deaths from drug overdoses have surged across the US to record levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationwide, overdose deaths last year exceeded 47,000, more than the number of people killed in car accidents and up 7% from the previous year.

Related:Rapid rise of heroin use in US tied to prescription opioid abuse, CDC suggests

The CDC said 61% of the deaths involved some type of opioid pain relievers and heroin. The count also included deaths involving powerful sedatives, cocaine and other legal and illicit drugs.

CDC director Tom Frieden said the rise in overdoses related to opioid use, up 14% from 2014, was particularly concerning.

“The increasing number of deaths from opioid overdose is alarming,” he said. “The opioid epidemic is devastating American families and communities.”

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.

West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio had the highest overdose death rates. In West Virginia, the overdose rate was 35.5 per 100,000; the national rate was about 15 per 100,000.

State rates are calculated to provide a more balanced comparison between states given the differences in population size.

In sheer numbers, California — the most populous state — had the most overdose deaths last year, with more than 4,500. Ohio was second, with more than 2,700.

The numbers are based on death certificates. Nearly half a million Americans died from drug overdoses from 2000 through 2014, the CDC says.

Drug overdoses — particularly those from prescription opioid painkillers — have become a priority issue for the Atlanta-based CDC. The agency this week released draft guidelines for family doctors, encouraging them to be more careful about prescribing opioids for chronic pain and urging the increased use of naloxone, an overdose antidote.

The CDC released the overall tally last week. On Friday it provided more details, including numbers for individual states.

The Associated Press contributed to this report