MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Alarming numbers, just released by the Centers for Disease Control, report that more than 50,000 people died in 2015 from drug overdoses, marking a historic high.
Experts believe this increase is in large part related to the increase in heroin and opioid-related deaths, which has claimed hundreds of lives in Alabama.
In fact, the new data reports more people died from heroin overdoses than gun related homicides in 2015. A staggering statistic when considering only eight years ago, gun deaths outnumbered fatal heroin overdoses 5-to-1.
"There's a lot of clamor about gun violence, but we need to start talking about drug violence," U.S. Attorney George Beck explained. "A lot of the homicides where guns are involved, gangs are involved and drugs are involved."
Beck has been outspoken about the abuse of opioid painkillers epidemic in Alabama's Middle District. His office is active in prosecuting pill mills, and doctors who attempt to circumvent the system by selling opioids on the streets.
"We are going to prosecute those who peddle these poisons to our youth," Beck stated.
Opioids are known as gateway drugs that generally lead to heroin use, as heroin is more affordable and accessible. Beck believes this could play a role in the 23 percent increase in heroin-related deaths in 2015.
"Now that the illegal pain killer clinics are shut down, they are turning to heroin," Beck said.
Beck agreed that Alabama's Middle District has avoided the catastrophic number of heroin-related deaths reported in other parts of the state.
"Heroin has not caused as many overdose deaths here, but I do think they are on the increase," Beck said. "There are investigations under way, that we can't talk about, that involve overdoses from heroin and other opioids."
Despite the sizable efforts of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Alabama's Middle District in the courtroom and the community to fight these disastrous drugs, Beck still doesn't feel it's enough.
"The secret to combating drug abuse is to go to the source, and that's China and Mexico," Beck said. "Until we have a policy that will diplomatically or economically prevent the source from coming to this country, we are not going to get a handle on it."
Beck also referenced the lethal nature of the drug Fentanyl, deaths involving this synthetic opiate increased by 75 percent between 2014-2015, according to the CDC.
Congress recently passed the "21st Century Cures" bill, giving more than $6,000,000,000 to medical research, including research for opioid abuse.