Drugs have killed more than 100,000 Americans since 2010, including hundreds of thousands who have died from opioid overdoses, according to a new analysis.
The number of opioid-related deaths has more than doubled in the past decade.
But some experts say it is premature to call the surge in deaths a national epidemic because of an uneven distribution of the drugs in the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday that the number of drug-related death certificates filed nationwide fell 8% in 2015.
In 2016, there were 7,091 drug-dependent deaths.
But the CDC report said the number rose 7% in 2017, reaching nearly 3,000.
Experts say it’s unclear what drives the increase.
The rise has occurred even as the country has seen a drop in deaths from opioids.
More than 4,300 deaths in the first six months of this year were attributed to prescription painkillers, compared with 3,097 in 2015, according a tally by the National Institutes of Health.
More broadly, the CDC data show the number from prescription drugs dropped 8% between 2012 and 2015.
Deaths from illicit drugs like heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine are down as well, according the data.
And the number in emergency rooms for drug overdoses has also fallen over the past few years.
A survey by the American Academy of Pediatrics last year found that drug overdose deaths were down 17% from the year before.
But Dr. William Pfizer, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said it’s possible that the rising deaths have something to do with an increase in people who are dying of chronic pain, not from opioids, because the number dying from drug overdoses remains at its all-time high.
“There’s no evidence that opioids are any better than the alternatives,” Pfizer said.
Many Americans don’t know that there are a variety of medications that can be prescribed to treat chronic pain or other ailments, including antidepressants and anti-depressants.
Many of these medications also have side effects, and it is unclear how they work.
In a separate study, Pfizer and Dr. James A. O’Neill of the University at Buffalo found that many patients in emergency departments were prescribed opioid-only medications, which can have significant side effects.
The FDA approved about 4.4 million pills in 2016, and some doctors prescribe them on the condition that patients take only those prescribed drugs.
That would mean the vast majority of the patients prescribed opioids are still using the drugs without any doctor supervision.
Some experts said the rise in overdose deaths was also a result of more people accessing painkillers as a result, such as the rising popularity of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.
That makes them more difficult to regulate, and the FDA has said it will crack down on manufacturers if they do not stop making or distributing opioids, a move that experts say could be counterproductive.
A 2015 study by the CDC and the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that the majority of people using prescription painkiller medications had been prescribed opioids at least once in the previous 30 days.
In addition, some experts said that prescription drug use was rising, and that may be contributing to the rise of overdose deaths.
This story has been updated to include information from Pfizer.