We're already in the midst of a nationwide epidemic and new numbers show opioid overdoses aren't slowing down.
2017 saw the highest number ever for drug overdose deaths in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control's newest report reveals around 72,000 people died across the country. That's up nearly 7 percent from the year before.
A breakdown of the number is even more troubling. Nationally, it averages out to around 200 people killed from an overdose a day which roughly translates to one person every eight minutes.
"So, if you think about what you do in the course of a day -- just driving to work, let's say -- that could be three to four people just in your commute to work," 9NEWS Medical Expert Dr. Comilla Sasson said.
More than two-thirds of overdose deaths are from opioids, the CDC reports, which includes natural opioids doctors prescribe -- like oxycodone and hydrocodone -- and synthetic opioids like fentanyl which is where the U.S. has seen the biggest rise, Sasson said.
"I've seen a lot of patients come into the emergency department who maybe thought that they were doing their normal drug, but that drug was laced with fentanyl or tramadol," Sasson said. "That's when they come in and they're in extreme respiratory distress which means they cannot breathe. They may have even stopped breathing and now we're trying to get whatever medications we can to try to revive them."
In Colorado alone, 1,052 people died last year as a result of an overdose. That's about 75 more than the year before. The increase happened despite efforts in the state to combat problems with overdoses.
"We've got the governor's office that's really created this new consortium to really help us try to address this," Sasson said. "We've got limitations on prescribers in terms of how many pills I can give you as a way to treat your pain. So, I know that I can only give you a seven-day supply. Now, that's new. That's not everywhere in the U.S. And that's very specific to Colorado, but it's one way to try to curb some of the prescription drugs that are contributing to this epidemic.
Sasson said reports like the CDC's don't always reflect actual numbers because deaths can go underreported, so the real number is usually higher. They also don't include the number of people who overdosed and survived.
"I think one of the things people don't realize is that drug abuse and drug overdoses can happen to anyone," Sasson said. "I think working in the emergency department, I've realized that more and more there's no specific category, race or socioeconomic class. it really does transcend all of that and I think that's one of the things we have to keep in mind."
The rise in drug overdose deaths is attached to more than opioids. There has also been a rise in cocaine and stimulants like methamphetamine, Sasson said.
"Now we're starting to see a little bit of a plateau, at least in prescription pain medicine, so that means we're making some headway," Sasson said.