The number of drug overdoses has grown exponentially for at least the past 38 years, a new analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data argues.

More than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2017, once again making drugs the leading cause of non-medical death in the United States. Those overdoses were driven in large part by opioids, especially the synthetic opioid fentanyl and its analogs. The paper, which appeared late last week in the journal Science, attempts to set the current opioid overdose crisis in the context of the long-run trend in drug overdoses in the United States.

The results are startling. The study’s authors found that the number of overdoses per year has risen steadily at an accelerating rate. For the data they looked at between 1979 and 2016, the number of drug overdose deaths doubled roughly every 9 years, rising from 1 death per 100,000 people in to over 17 deaths per 100,000 people.

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