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More people died from overdoses in 2016 than died from AIDS in 1995, the peak of that crisis.
The final data is in for 2016, and it’s now clear that last year was the deadliest year on record for drug overdoses.
According to data released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 63,600 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, a 21 percent increase from last year’s total of 52,400.
That death toll increase was driven primarily by non-methadone synthetic opioids like fentanyl and its analogs—more than 19,400 people died after encounters with these drugs in 2016. The rise in deaths from these types of drugs has been shockingly rapid. The rate of overdoses involving these non-methadone synthetics doubled in a single year from 3.1 per 100,000 in 2015 to 6.2 in 2016.
Age-adjusted drug overdose death rates, by opioid category: United States, 1999–2016
Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, which compiled this data, told The Washington Post “We've gone well beyond [the AIDS epidemic] now. It's hard to take in.”
For comparison, 43,000 Americans died from AIDS in 1995, the year that crisis peaked.
And, Anderson isn’t hopeful that the country will turn a corner in 2017. “My guess is that when all of the data are in that the  trend line will be at least as steep as for 2016, if not steeper,” he said.
President Trump made addressing the opioid crisis a center-piece of his 2016 campaign, but local health officials—the boots on the ground in the fight—are largely disappointed with the administration’s response thus far.
In August, Trump appeared to declare the epidemic a “national emergency,” a designation that the White House’s own opioid commission had pushed for, and one which would have made additional federal resources available to state and local agencies. But, the administration took more than two months to officially file the paperwork to make this declaration real. And, when push came to shove, the crisis was instead dubbed a “public health emergency,” which came with no new funding from the federal government.
That distinction wasn’t lost on local officials.
“This is a very complex multifaceted, long-term problem that is going to need a significant infusion of resources, over a significant period of time if we’re going to wrap our arms around this,” Laura Hanen the interim director and chief of government affairs for the National Association of County and City Health Officials told Route Fifty in a previous interview.
Quinn Libson is a Staff Correspondent for Government Executive’s Route Fifty, based in Washington, D.C.
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