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Opioid abuse propels record U.S. deaths from overdose

ATLANTA (Reuters) - U.S. deaths from drug overdoses hit a record high in 2014, propelled by abuse of prescription painkillers and heroin, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday.

ATLANTA (Reuters) - U.S. deaths from drug overdoses hit a record high in 2014, propelled by abuse of prescription painkillers and heroin, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday.

Drug overdoses increased 6.5 percent in 2014 from a year earlier, killing 47,055 people. The highest rates of death from overdose were seen in West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Ohio, the CDC report said.

Deaths from opioids such as prescription pain killers and heroin accounted for 61 percent ofoverdose deaths and increased 14 percent in 2014, the CDC said.

"The increasing number of deaths from opioid overdose is alarming," CDC Director Tom Frieden said Friday in a statement. "The opioid epidemic is devastating American families and communities."

Since 2000, deaths overall from drug overdoses have increased 137 percent while those from opioids have jumped 200 percent, the agency said. Half a million people in the United States have died from drug overdoses since 2000, according to the CDC.

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Deaths from prescription painkillers have been increasing for 15 years and there has been a recent surge in heroin-related deaths, tripling in the last four years, the CDC said.

Lower heroin prices, wider availability and higher purity are causing more overdoses, the agency reported. It recommends stricter guidelines for prescribing pain killers, expanded availability and wider access to naloxone, an antidote for opioid-related overdoses.

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