More than 47,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2014, an increase of 7 percent from the previous year, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The increase was driven largely by deaths from heroin and prescription opioids, the Associated Press reports.
Almost 19,000 deaths were due to opioid painkillers, an increase of 16 percent from 2013. Deaths from heroin overdoses increased 28 percent, to about 10,500, the article notes.
The rise in opioid-related deaths is due partly to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and tramadol, according to a government news release. Heroin is often cut with fentanyl in order to increase its effect.
In March, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a nationwide alert in response to a surge in overdose deaths from heroin laced with fentanyl, the most potent opioid available for medical use. According to the DEA, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues produced in illicit clandestine labs are up to 100 times more powerful than morphine and 30-50 times more powerful than heroin.
Fentanyl is potentially lethal, even at very low levels, according to the DEA. Federal drug agents say in the last two years, Mexican cartels have increased production of a variant of fentanyl called acetyl fentanyl, and are smuggling it into the United States.