Sept. 4 (UPI) -- Drug overdose deaths in the United States skyrocketed 21 percent in 2016 from the previous year, accounting for the deaths of approximately 64,000 people, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control.
Several states saw drug overdose death increases in the double digits, including Virginia (38 percent increase), Florida (55 percent), Maryland (67 percent) and Delaware (71 percent). New York City also saw a rise of about 50 percent.
Florida had the highest overall number of overdose deaths in 2016, with 5,167.
The reason for the spike appears to be fentanyl, a synthetic opioid analgesic similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more powerful.
The drug took about 20,000 lives last year, overtaking heroin as the number one cause of drug overdose deaths.
The New York Times reported that fentanyl-related deaths have jumped 540 percent in the past three years and more than doubled from 2015 to 2016 -- a killing rate higher than the HIV epidemic at its peak.
In July, the Drug Enforcement Agency called fentanyl a "global threat."
"The United States is in the midst of a fentanyl crisis, with law enforcement reporting and public health data indicating higher availability of fentanyls, increased seizures of fentanyls, and more known overdose deaths from fentanyls than at any other time since the drugs were first created in 1959," the DEA said.
Between 1999 and 2015, the CDC estimates there have been about 300,000 overdose deaths caused by opioids. But the death rate has jumped in recent years.
"The first wave of deaths began in 1999 and included deaths involving prescription opioids," the CDC said. "It was followed by a second wave, beginning in 2010, and characterized by deaths involving heroin. A third wave started in 2013, with deaths involving synthetic opioids, particularly illicitly manufactured fentanyl."