Drug Overdose Deaths Reach Grim Milestone: CDC

Lack of access to treatment during the pandemic was a major contributor to the record death toll

According to data from recently released federal records, the number of drug overdose deaths skyrocketed over the last year in the United States, largely owing to consequences of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System on November 17, indicating that more than 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses from April 2020 to April 2021, which represents more than a doubling of the drug overdose deaths since 2015.

CDC researchers used data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Provisional Monthly National and State-Level Drug Overdose Death Counts, including provisional drug overdose death counts based on death records received and processed by the National Center for Health Statistics.

According to the findings, drug overdoses increased nearly 30% during the pandemic. From April 2020 to April 20201, drug overdoses increased from 78,000 to more than 100,000. There were more drug overdose deaths than there were deaths from car crashes and gun fatalities combined, mostly owing to overdoses from synthetic opioids like the powerful drug fentanyl. The majority of overdose deaths, roughly 70%, were among men ages 25 to 54.

This is the first time the number of drug overdose deaths in the US exceeded 100,000, according to the CDC. Researchers say the isolation and depression resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic is largely to blame.

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Americans died in record numbers from drug overdoses during the pandemic. Not only did isolation contribute to drug deaths, but there was an increase in the loss of access to medical treatment and drug treatment. Rising mental health problems and wider availability of potent drugs, including lethal fentanyl, have contributed to the increase in overdose deaths, researchers determined.

The CDC data highlighted the role fentanyl plays in the increase in overdose deaths. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Additionally, many illicit street drugs are often laced with fentanyl, frequently without the user’s knowledge. A user may be looking to purchase illicit types of opioid painkillers like OxyContin, but may receive something laced with a small dose of fentanyl.

Even in tiny amounts, fentanyl can be lethal and can lead to debilitating and devastating side effects, including death. Some drug users seek out fentanyl for its potency comparative to other drugs. And still, others are unaware they are even taking it. Regardless, the risk of overdose when fentanyl is involved skyrockets.

Overdose deaths linked to stimulants like methamphetamine, cocaine and other opioids like prescription painkillers also increased during the 12-month period.

The largest increases in overdose deaths, exceeding 50%, were seen in California, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and Kentucky. While the overall death toll in Vermont was low, it increased by 85% during the reporting period.

Many users first become addicted after being given prescription opioids by a doctor, often after surgery or following emergency room treatment, researchers warn.

Health experts warn the drug overdose problem, while doctor prescribing habits are also to blame, stems from the lack of accessibility to drug treatment programs. It is often easier to score illicit drugs on the street than it is to gain access to drug treatment programs and support .

Health administration officials recently indicated they will expand access to drug overdose reversal medications, like naloxone, among pharmacies and doctors to help prevent drug overdose deaths, but it is clear the drug overdose epidemic is worsening and more must be done CDC researchers say.


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