CDC: Heroin, Oxycodone Were Involved in Most Recent Overdose Deaths

DECEMBER 23, 2016
Jennifer Barrett, Assistant Editor

Heroin and oxycodone topped the list of drugs involved in overdose deaths in recent years, according to a report released by the CDC.
The study, based off an analysis of death certificates from 2010 to 2014, revealed a steady increase of drug-related deaths during this time. From 1999 to 2014, age-adjusted rates of drug overdose deaths more than doubled from 6.1 per 100,000 population to 14.7 in 2014, the CDC researchers noted.
Data were based on the National Vital Statistics Systems’ mortality files, which provided literal text information from death certificates. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and the FDA devised a method to analyze death certificates text to identify the specific drugs involved in the deaths.
As determined from the data, the top 10 drugs most commonly involved in overdose deaths included: opioids heroin, oxycodone, methadone, morphine, hydrocodone, and fentanyl; benzodiazepines alprazolam and diazepam; and stimulants cocaine and methamphetamine.
The findings demonstrated a considerable increase in age-adjusted rates of drug overdose deaths in short time frame. During the 5-year period, heroin overdose rates more than tripled, and fentanyl overdose deaths more than doubled from 2013 to 2014.
The report highlighted the number of drug deaths by the number of specific drugs involved, based on drug mentions cited on the death certificate text. 

Source: CDC
Key findings revealed in the report include:
  • Oxycodone ranked first in 2010 and 2011 among drug overdose deaths. Heroin ranked first from 2012 through 2014.
  • The number of drug overdose deaths that involved heroin more than tripled, from 3020 deaths, or 8% of all drug overdose deaths in 2010, to 10,863 deaths, or 23% of all drug overdose deaths in 2014.
  • Each year, cocaine ranked second or third among drugs involved in drug overdose deaths.
  • From 2010 through 2012, fentanyl was involved in roughly 1600 drug overdose deaths each year. Fentanyl involvement increased to 1905 deaths in 2013 and to 4200 deaths in 2014.
  • Only methadone showed a decreasing drug overdose death rate, from 1.5 per 100,000 population in 2011 to 1.1 in 2014. The number of drug overdose deaths involving methadone fell from 4408 in 2010 to 3495 in 2014.
  • The number of drug overdose deaths that involved methamphetamine increased from 1388 in 2010 to 3728 in 2014.
The CDC also presented data examining percent distribution involving concomitant drugs for the top 10 drugs involved in overdose deaths.

Source: CDC
The summary intends to provide a detailed picture of drugs most frequently involved in overdose deaths, as well as frequency of deaths involving multiple drugs. The data exemplifies drug abuse trends and notes a growing area of public health concern. Revising clinical practice guidelines to improve opioid prescribing is one way to help health care providers offer safe and effective treatment options while reducing drug-related abuse. 
  1. Warner M, Trinidad J, Bastian B, et al. Drugs Most Frequently Involved in Drug Overdose Deaths: United States, 2010-2014. National Vital Statistics Report. 2016;65;10: 1-14.