NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The drug overdose crisis is tightening its grip on the United States, with opioids taking a brutal toll according to a new government report.
The report says the powerful drug fentanyl is now the biggest killer, a reality Rich Strickling is all too familiar with. He lost his 22-year-old son, Alex, earlier this year to an overdose.
"He was full of joy, he didn't have a mean bone in his body," Strickling said.
Alex's death was ruled accidental, and caused by the powerful synthetic opioid.
"Now when kids experiment, the consequences of that experimentation are deadly," Strickling said.
New research from the Centers for Disease Control shows fentanyl is the most common drug involved in overdose deaths in the United States. Dr. Courtney McKnight with NYU's College of Global Health says the opioid is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
"People don't know it's being cut into drugs, so they're using the same amount of heroin they're used to but it contains a more potent opioid and that's leading to overdose deaths," McKnight said.
The CDC study looked at death certificates of people who overdosed from 2011 to 2016 and found a 54 percent increase in drug overdose deaths. Overall, more than 63,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2016, many of whom often involved more than one drug.
"We need to know what overdose deaths include drugs other than opioids, so we need to be thinking more broadly about the crisis as a drug overdose crisis as opposed to just an opioid crisis," McKnight said.
After fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine accounted for the highest numbers of overdose deaths by the end of the study. The report also found drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone were more likely to be used in suicide by overdose.
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