Image copyright PA Image caption The US opioid crisis led to a record number of drug overdose deaths in 2017
Fentanyl, a powerful opioid drug, was responsible for more than half of the more than 63,000 drug overdose deaths in the US in 2017, according to new government data.
The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) said the figures make fentanyl the “most frequently involved drug” in US overdose deaths last year.
Some 22,508 people died from opioid overdoses in 2017, including more than 11,500 of them who died from fentanyl.
Meanwhile, 6,842 people died of heroin overdoses.
In the first half of last year, when the number of fatal drug overdoses began to climb, the number of users who said fentanyl was the most common type of drug they had taken had been increasing by 50% a year.
Fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and is often used in replacement or “synthetic” heroin and sometimes as a replacement for OxyContin in opioid painkillers.
Opioids are classified as any type of drugs or drug mixture which is 100 times more powerful than morphine or 100 times more powerful than heroin.
Image copyright Rex Features Image caption Drug deaths increased by 27% in January and February compared with the same time period in 2017
The NCHS said an estimated 572,000 people were addicted to heroin in 2017, including 264,400 who were dependent on the drug and 126,300 who were addicted to heroin.
This is the second annual rise in drug overdose deaths in a row since the epidemic began, leading to fears that the epidemic is showing signs of levelling off.
In February 2017, the Obama administration announced it would use its executive powers to step up prevention and treatment of opioid addiction.
This included setting up a fund to support new painkiller treatments and identifying schools where rampant prescription drug abuse could be spotted.