More than 100,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States in the 12 months ended April 2021, according to preliminary data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday.
That’s a new record high, with overdose deaths up 28.5 percent from the same period last year.
Opioids continue to be the leading cause of drug overdose deaths. Synthetic opioids, mainly fentanyl, accounted for nearly two-thirds (64%) of all drug overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending April 2021, up 49% from a year earlier, the CDC Health Statistics found.
Experts say the Covid-19 pandemic and the increase in fentanyl use have both been key factors in the increase in overdose deaths.
The latest preliminary data on drug overdose deaths include those that occurred between May 2020 and April 2021. Covid-19 killed approximately 509,000 people during the same period, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
“We are seeing the effects of these crisis patterns and the emergence of more dangerous drugs at a much lower cost,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told CNN. “In a crisis of this scale, those already using drugs can take in larger quantities and recovered can recur. It’s a phenomenon we’ve seen and perhaps we could have predicted.”
But the rise of fentanyl, a stronger and faster-acting drug than natural opiates, has made those effects even more deadly, he said.
The increasing use of synthetic drugs caught the attention of experts before striking Covid-19, but the pandemic may have exacerbated the problem.
Because international travel is limited, synthetic products that are easier to manufacture and more compacted are likely to be more effective in smuggling across borders, Volkow said.
New federal data show that methamphetamine and other psychostimulant-related overdose deaths also increased significantly, by 48 percent in the year ended April 2021, compared with the previous year. They accounted for more than a quarter of all overdose deaths in the last 12 months.
Although fentanyl was once more popular on the East Coast and methamphetamine on the West Coast, Volkow says both have now increased nationwide.
The number of deaths from cocaine and prescription drugs also increased compared to the previous year, but not as sharply.
As the country reopens and society returns to its pre-pandemic normal state, experts say people will continue to die very quickly from drug overdoses unless measures are taken to improve access to treatment.
“Even if Covid disappeared tomorrow, we would still have a problem. The impact is a dramatic improvement in access to treatment,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, medical director of opioid policy research at Brandell University’s Heller School for Social. Politics and governance.
“These are deaths in people with preventable, treatable disease. The United States continues to fail on both fronts, both in preventing opioid dependence and in treating the addiction,” he said, stressing that President Joe Biden must deliver on his campaign promise. to deal with the crisis.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources released an overview of the Biden administration’s plan to combat drug overdose. It includes measures to address opioid prescribing practices and remove barriers to treatment, as well as recovery support and federal support for harm reduction strategies.
On Wednesday, the White House National Drug Control Agency released a model law that provides states with a model for enacting their own legislation to improve the availability of naloxone, a drug that cancels opioid overdoses.
“If we really want to turn a corner, we need to get to the point where treatment for opioid dependence is easier to get than fentanyl, heroin, or prescription opioids,” Kolodny said, referring to drugs like buprenorphine.
“The evidence is really clear that using drugs to treat opioid dependence saves lives,” said Beth Connolly, director of the Pew Charitable Trust’s Drug Prevention and Treatment Initiative. “As we see more and more evidence that (medicines) are saving lives, it will hopefully reduce stigma and classification in favor of individuals.”
NCHS updates preliminary overdose death data on a monthly basis and is subject to change, as drug overdose deaths often require “lengthy investigation, including toxicological testing” to confirm the cause of death.
In 2019, heart disease was the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the CDC, killing nearly 660,000 people. Cancer killed nearly 600,000 people in 2019, while accidents, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease each caused more than 100,000 deaths. These figures reflect final annual updates and are not directly comparable with preliminary data.