Drug Overdoses Reached Record Level in 2021, CDC Finds

The pandemic and associated lockdowns are believed to be a factor in the record level of drug overdoses last year.

In 2021, approximately one drug overdose death occurred every five minutes in the United States, according to a new federal report, which suggests that the problems reached record levels last year.

According to statistical data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), drug overdose deaths in the U.S. rose nearly 15% in 2021; reaching nearly 108,000 fatalities. This is a sharp increase from the 93,655 drug overdose deaths reported at the end of 2020.

Though this is a record number of drug-induced deaths overall, the percentage increase is less when compared to the change seen from 2019 to 2020, where the number of drug overdose deaths increased by 30%.

Over the last few decades, drug-related fatalities have been rising; but the two years of the pandemic have seen a significant surge. The increased stress and economic woes brought on by the pandemic are known triggers for addiction and relapse in those suffering from substance abuse. Restrictions and lockdowns imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic are being cited as exacerbating factors by isolating substance abusers and making the already limited access to available treatment considerably worse.

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According to the NCHS report, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were responsible for over 71,000 of the total fatal overdoses reported last year. There were 32,856 overdose deaths attributed to the use of methamphetamines, 24,538 caused by cocaine, and 13,503 connected to the use of prescription pain medications. For fentanyl, this was a 23% increase over 2020. Methamphetamines and similar stimulants had the greatest rise in deaths: 34% over the year before.

The report illustrates the impact of drug usage across the United States. The largest number of overdose deaths occurred in West Virginia where there were 83 deaths per every 100,000 people. Tennessee and Pennsylvania were not far behind with 57 and 54.8 deaths per 100,000 people, respectively. On the opposite end of this were Nebraska and Maryland who both reported a 1% increase in overdose fatalities during 2021. Only one state, Hawaii, reported a decrease in overdose deaths last year.

As part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the NCHS is the principal statistics agency in the United States. They gather and analyze healthcare data from across the country to provide information on trends in medical care and problems to help improve the public health of the American people.

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