Health

New federal data show the Ohio Valley again led the nation in rates of fatal drug overdoses last year.

The data confirm what local officials have reported: synthetic opioids are fueling the increase.

West Virginia had the nation’s highest rate of fatal drug overdoses in 2017 with 57.8 deaths per 100,000 people.

Ohio had the second-highest rate with 46.3 deaths per 100,000 people. And Kentucky was fifth in the nation with a rate of at 37.2 deaths per 100,000 people.

The Centers for Disease Control data show the rates for these three states were above the national average of 21.7. The rates are also an increase from 2016.

Fentanyl Fatalities

Synthetic opioids including fentanyl, carfentanil and tramadol appear to be fueling the continued increase.

The rate of drug overdose deaths involving these drugs was nine per 100,000 people, an increase of 45 percent from 2016.

The rate of deaths involving prescription opioids and heroin remained the same at 4.4 and 4.9, respectively.

Health officials in the Ohio Valley region have reported the same findings when they released state overdose death data earlier this year.

Kentucky’s report found fentanyl played a factor in more than half of the overdose cases in which a toxicology report was available.

“Fentanyl is the deadliest and most addictive drug our nation has ever seen,” Van Ingram, Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy executive director, said in a news release. “The fact that people continue to use it – despite the obvious risk – shows just how addictive these drugs are. That’s why we have to make every effort to intervene with a comprehensive treatment response.”

Ohio’s data show fentanyl was involved in 71 percent of all overdose deaths.

“Not only the fentanyl alone, but also fentanyl which is sometimes mixed with other street drugs like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine,” Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Director Dr. Mark Hurst said.

Experts say the silver lining is that the projected rate of increase appears to be leveling off. But that unfortunately does not mean the number of lives lost will decrease in the near future.

Lower Life Expectancy

The continued increase in overdose deaths is affecting the overall health of the nation.

Another recently released report from the CDC found that life expectancy in the country declined to 78.6 years, the third consecutive year for a downward trend.

CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield wrote in a statement that the trend is largely driven by drug overdose deaths and a 3.7 percent increase in the suicide rate.

“Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” he wrote. “We must all work together to reverse this trend and help ensure that all Americans live longer and healthier lives.”