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CDC: More U.S. deaths caused by drug overdoses in 2017 than ever before

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Bags of filled prescriptions wait to be picked up by customers at a New York pharmacy. The CDC said in a report Wednesday more than 70,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year, a new record. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

By Sommer Brokaw, UPI

A record number of Americans died of drug overdoses in 2017, lending to what experts and the Trump administration consider a growing national health emergency -- and new efforts to curb the opioid crisis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report Wednesday that indicated more than 72,000 Americans died of a drug overdose last year, a number greater than the CDC has noted at any time in history.

Fatal drug overdoses increased more than 6 percent in the United States over 2016, the preliminary report shows.

The CDC noted, however, that the preliminary data is incomplete and likely underestimate the true number of deaths.

[post_ads]The agency said a majority of the overdoses, more than 40,000, involved opiates. Synthetic opioids like oxycodone and fetanyl, often abused for their heroin-like effect, caused the vast majority of the cases -- about 30,000.

CDC data show more than 140 Americans die each day from drug overdoses -- 91, or 65 percent, from opioids.

Some of the states that saw the largest increase were North Carolina and New Jersey, each reporting an increase of better than 20 percent in 2017. Nebraska reported an increase of over 33 percent.

President Donald Trump has declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency, but stopped short last year of declaring a state of emergency that would've given states access to funding from the federal Disaster Relief Fund.

In fiscal 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services spent $900 million in opioid-specific efforts, some of which went toward support and recovery services and training first responders. Trump has also set up a presidential council to address the problem.

The CDC report was issued the same day the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a new warning to heath providers that more opioid addicts appear to be trying to obtain prescription narcotics in a new way -- with their pets.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said officials have seen an increasing number of cases in which users may be taking strong painkillers prescribed for their pets.

"We recognize that opioids and other pain medications have a legitimate and important role in treating pain in animals -- just as they do for people. But just like the opioid medications used in humans, these drugs have potentially serious risks, not just for the animal patients, but also because of their potential to lead to addiction, abuse and overdose in humans who may divert them for their own use," Gottlieb said in a statement.
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The FDA has issued guidelines for veterinarians on the issue -- that include regulations, alternative medicines and proper procedures for storing and safeguarding opioids.

"It's important to understand the role veterinarians, who stock and administer these drugs, play in combating the abuse and misuse of pain medications," Gottlieb added.

There is only one FDA-approved opioid for use in pets. Last spring, authorities removed carfentanil from its list of approved medications for animals. Carfentanil is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times stronger than morphine.

"Veterinarians should also follow professional standards set by the American Veterinary Medical Association in prescribing these products to ensure those who are working with these powerful medications understand the risks and their role in combating this epidemic," he continued. "Veterinarians are also required to be licensed by the Drug Enforcement Agency to prescribe opioids to animal patients, as are all health care providers when prescribing for use in humans."

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