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America's Deadly Opioid Epidemic By the Numbers

Click through some of the interactive maps to see which spots have seen the largest spikes in opioid-related deaths

Opioids kill more people each year than traffic accidents, than guns. Increasingly, they're killing children. New synthetic drugs are emerging -- cocktails so potent even touching them can lead to injury or death. Here are some facts and figures that highlight this disturbing, deadly trend.

Tune in for "State of Addiction," a special week-long investigative series beginning on Monday, Dec. 11 on News 4 New York.

Over the past 18 years, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids nearly quadrupled, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

On an average day in the U.S., more than 650,000 opioid prescriptions are dispensed. On each day, 3,900 people begin the nonmedical use of prescription opioids, while 580 people begin using heroin, DHHS says.

Four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription opioids, DHHS says.

More than 240 million opioid prescriptions were written in 2014 — more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills, according to DHHS. 

Nina Lin/NBC

In 2016, more than 11.5 million Americans older than 12 reported misusing prescription opioids in the past year, the White House says. The same year, nearly 950,000 Americans reported using heroin and more . 

Some 78 people died each day in the U.S. from opioid-related overdoses in 2016, DHHS says. More than 300,000 Americans have died from overdoses involving opioids since 2000, according to the White House.

The national age-adjusted rate of opioid overdose deaths in 2015 was 10.4 deaths per 100,000 Americans, the White House says. 

About 64,000 people died from overdoses in 2016, more than the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War, the New York Times reported. That’s 175 Americans each day and 22 percent more than the 52,404 who died from an overdose in 2015, making it the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States.

Source:; Map: Will Mathis/NBC

In 1980, there were a little more than 5,000 overdose deaths per year. By 2000, that number had risen to just under 20,000. In 2010, it was approaching 40,000.

Of the 52,404 overdose deaths in 2015, nearly two-thirds — 33,091 — involved opioids, according to the White House.

In New York City, 1,075 of the 1,300 overdose deaths in 2016 were from an opioid, according to the city.

Across New York City, someone dies of a drug overdose every 7 hours, according to the Health Department.

In 2016, there were 1,374 confirmed overdose deaths in the city; opioids were found in 82 percent of deaths and fentanyl was involved in 44 percent of deaths, according to the Health Department.

From January to June 2017, there were 711 confirmed drug overdose deaths in New York City.

By October, the city Health Department had distributed more than 45,000 naloxone kits in 2017. The drug reverses overdoses. 

Before 2015, fentanyl was involved in fewer than 5 percent of all overdose deaths in NYC. By 2016, almost 90 percent of fatal opioid overdoses involved heroin or fentanyl. 

Fentanyl is about 50 times stronger than heroin, a derivative of morphine, which comes from raw opium. Carfentanil, a potent derivative of fentanyl, is up to 10,000 times stronger than morphine.

0.1 mg of fentanyl can be safely administered to an adult human each hour, whereas 1,000 mg of fentanyl can be safely administered to an adult elephant. 1,000 mg of fentanyl, or 1 mg of carfentanil, would easily kill a human.

Fentanyl deaths have skyrocketed 540 percent in three years, according to the Times.

Fentanyl was responsible for the most fatal overdoses in the U.S. — 20,100 — followed by heroin at 15,400 and then prescription opioids at 14,400. Cocaine was up next with 10,600 overdose deaths.

The number of babies born drug-dependent increased by 500 percent between 2000 and 2014, according to the White House. Almost a third of all children placed in foster care are from families with parental drug abuse.

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50 years old.

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