U.S. Overdose Deaths Total Record 107,000 Last Year

The tainted drug supply in the United States continues to exact a grim toll as overdose deaths exceeded 107,000 in 2021, according to an estimate released on Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a statement that the most recent overdose numbers are “truly staggering.”

The CDC estimate exceeds the previous record for the number of overdose deaths set in 2020 by 15% and represents the equivalent of a death caused by drug overdose in the United States approximately every five seconds. The new record continues a trend of an increasing number of overdose deaths that has plagued the nation for more than twenty years, largely fueled by the nationwide opioid epidemic.

Deaths Involving Synthetic Opioids Also Up

Last year, the number of overdose deaths involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids surpassed 71,000, a 23% increase over 2020. Deaths involving cocaine also increased by 23%, while deaths involving methamphetamine and other stimulants rose by 34%.

Fentanyl is often used by illicit manufacturers in counterfeit prescription opioids, making the drugs’ dosage and risk of overdose uncertain.

CDC officials also noted that other drugs are often cut with fentanyl by unscrupulous dealers, who often leave their customers unaware of the danger.

“The net effect is that we have many more people, including those who use drugs occasionally and even adolescents, exposed to these potent substances that can cause someone to overdose even with a relatively small exposure,” Volkow said, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times.

The nation’s epidemic of overdose deaths continued to rise last year as the coronavirus pandemic isolated those with drug problems and made effective substance misuse treatment and mental health services more difficult to access. Keith Humphreys, an addiction and drug policy researcher at Stanford University, believes that the deadly trend is likely to continue.

“2022 will probably be as horrible as 2021 was, quite possibly worse,” Humphreys told the Washington Post.

The rise in overdose deaths last year varied geographically. Alaska saw the biggest jump in deaths with an increase of 75%, while Hawaii saw a 2% reduction in deaths caused by drug overdoses.

Humphreys said that the United States is likely to see more than a million overdose deaths in the span of a decade without substantive public policy changes. He also noted that the rise of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl will also continue because they can be produced in a lab more easily than traditional plant-based drugs can be grown. The ramifications of the readily available drugs, which can easily be bought through social media apps and other online platforms, remain to be seen.

“There may not be much heroin around in 10 years because everything is fentanyl,” Humphreys said. “What do you do in a world where no one needs a farm anymore to make drugs?”

Harm Reduction Saves Lives

Humphreys said that a single solution will not be the answer to the nation’s epidemic of drug overdoses. But harm reduction measures including increasing access to the drug naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose, can help reduce the death toll.

“I think of naloxone like I do …

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