Opioid overdoses killed more Americans than car crashes and gun violence in 2015, new government data shows.
Overall, overdoses related to the country's growing opioid epidemic totaled 52,404. That includes overdose deaths from prescription painkillers like oxycontin and vicodin, as well as overdoses from the super-potent synthetic opioid fentanyl, and deaths from people abusing heroin, the Centers for Disease Control said.
By contrast, vehicle crashes claimed the lives of 37,757 Americans in 2015, while murders and suicides involving guns claimed 36,252 lives.
"I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this," the CDC's Robert Anderson told CBS News. "Certainly not in modern times."
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Earlier, the CDC revealed that overdoses from fentanyl spiked by 80 percent from 2013 to 2014. The synthetic opioid is made specifically for blunting severe pain after medical operations, and is intended to be administered by doctors only in highly-monitored medical situations with around-the-clock care, such as hospitals.
Typically administered via a patch or injection, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, itself a powerful narcotic painkiller, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It's the most potent of all painkillers available to patients.
Fentanyl was blamed for a rash of 42 overdoses -- including 10 deaths -- over a 12-day period in the Sacramento area earlier in 2016, CBS News reported.
Unlike other street drugs, fentanyl cannot be easily replicated.
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"This is not bathroom biochemistry," Timothy Albertson, a toxicologist at UC Davis Medical Center, told CBS News. "It's going to be very sophisticated."
Despite that, the supply on the street isn't coming from hospitals or other places where the drug is stored, law enforcement officials say. Rather, it's the product of sophisticated illegal operations and is imported to the U.S.
"We believe it is manufactured in China," DEA special agent John Martin said, "it is being distributed to Mexico, it is brought up through the normal drug smuggling routes of the southwest border."