More than 61,300 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses in 2017, up from the previous year’s record of 54,800. (See the graphic.) That’s more than the number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War. And it’s happening every year.

Opioids are directly or indirectly responsible for about 70 percent of those overdose deaths.

Deaths by drug overdose have increased from 11,712 in 2000 to 61,311 in 2017.

Credit: Goodman and Wedekind using data from CDC

Why Are Opioids So Harmful?

Anyone who takes an opioid, legal or illegal, is at risk of becoming addicted. Why? Opioids work on your brain in a manner that is different from all other addictive substances. Opioids target your brain’s neurotransmitters and become substitute endorphins that mimic your body’s natural endorphins like dopamine and serotonin. Over time, your brain slows the natural production of endorphins. At this point, addicts feel they must take drugs in order to experience normal feelings of happiness, pleasure, fun, or normal day-to-day emotions.