DEA: 52,404 Drug Overdoses in 2015; 144 People a Day

By Susan Jones | October 24, 2017 | 10:35am EDT
(Photo: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration)

( - Drug poisoning deaths are the leading cause of injury death in the United States, killing 52,404 people in 2015, or about 144 people a day, the Drug Enforcement Administration said in a report released on Monday.

Drug overdoses "are currently at their highest-ever recorded level and, every year since 2011, have outnumbered deaths by firearms, motor vehicle crashes, suicide and homicide," the report said.

DEA said the 52,404 drug overdose deaths counted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015 exceeded the 44,193 suicides in that year; 37,757 motor vehicle crashes; 36,252 firearms deaths; and 17,793 homicides. (The report notes that deaths may be counted multiple times because of overlapping categories.)

And according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, preliminary data indicate that around 60,000 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2016, so the number continues to rise.

While the nation's opioid epidemic has received most of the attention lately, that's only part of the story.

According to the 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment: "[T]he methamphetamine threat has remained prevalent; the cocaine threat appears to be rebounding; new psychoactive substances (NPS) continue to be a challenge; and the focus of marijuana enforcement efforts continues to evolve."

The Drug Enforcement Administration, using CDC data, said opioids (prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl) represented 63 percent of the approximately 52,404 drug overdoses in 2015. That works out to 91 opioid overdose deaths a day.

While recent data suggests abuse of prescription drugs has lessened in some areas, the number of individuals reporting current use of controlled prescription drugs is still more than those reporting use of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, MDMA, and phencyclidine (PCP) combined.

The total economic burden of prescription drug abuse was estimated to be $78.5 billion in 2013. This includes increased health care and substance abuse treatment costs as well as criminal justice costs.

"The costs of prescription opioid abuse represent a substantial and growing economic burden for the society," the report said. "The increasing prevalence of abuse suggests an even greater societal burden in the future."

Other findings:


-- Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) maintain the greatest drug trafficking influence in the United States, with continued signs of growth and expansion.

-- Mexican TCO activity in the United States is mainly overseen by Mexican nationals or U.S. citizens of Mexican origin.

-- U.S.-based TCO members of Mexican nationality enter the United States legally and illegally, often seeking to conceal themselves within densely-populated Mexican-American communities in the United States.

-- Mexican TCOs transport the majority of illicit drugs into the United States across the Southwest border using a wide array of smuggling techniques. The most common method employed by these TCOs involves transporting illicit drugs through U.S. ports of entry in passenger vehicles with concealed compartments or commingled with legitimate goods on tractor trailers. They also use tunnels and drones.

The full report runs 169 pages and includes details about gangs, illicit finances, and seven categories of illegal drugs: controlled prescription drugs, heroin, fentanyl and synthetic opioids, methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana and new psychoactive substances.


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