As the prescription painkiller crisis worsens in the US, many more are expected to die as people turn to drugs more powerful than heroin

Tens of thousands of people will die from opioid drug use next year, as the US epidemic worsens.

It is thought there were more than 53,000 opioid-related deaths there in 2016. Official tallies won’t be released until next year, but a number of states – among them Missouri, Mississippi, Connecticut and Maryland – have already reported higher opioid-related death rates for 2017 than for 2016.

While prescription painkillers have played a role in the epidemic, crackdowns mean many now get opioids on the street – including fentanyl, which can be 100 times more powerful than heroin.

Given its trajectory, this trend is expected to worsen next year. In 2016, there were over 21,000 fentanyl-related deaths – more than double the number in 2015 – meaning the drug overtook heroin as a cause of death.

It isn’t just a US problem. Drug-related deaths have been rising in Europe, and there

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