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New provisional data released by the federal government estimates that nearly 108,000 people died from drug overdoses from January to December, 2021.
“That’s about a 15% increase from the number of deaths by 2020,” said Farida Ahmad, a research scientist at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. Nearly 94,000 will die by 2020.
The year-over-year increase in overdose deaths was even higher from 2019 to 2020, jumping to a historic 30%. While the rise in deaths will slow in 2021, the overall death toll is still the highest annual overdose death recorded in the U.S..
“More than 80,000 of the deaths were involving opioids, which is about a 15% increase from last year,” Ahmad said.
And more than 71,000 of all opioid-related deaths involve the illegal manufacture of fentanyl, which in recent years has been mixed with a variety of banned drugs.
“Over the past three years we’ve seen an increase in contamination of other illicit drugs with fentanyl, whether it’s cocaine, methamphetamine, and more recently, illicit prescription drugs,” Drs. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
This puts a larger population of drug users at risk of overdoses, he added. “A lot of times, it can be people who take just one pill and they get the contaminated pill and they can die.”
That includes teenagers, he added, who to date are less likely to die from overdoses. A new study shows that for the first time in a decade, the number of teens dying from overdose will rise by 2020. Volkow and other addiction researchers think this is primarily because for fentanyl is increasingly being added to counterfeit prescription drugs, which are popular at this age. group.
“It is utterly devastating and unfortunate that we continue to remain in this position,” said Sheila Vakharia, deputy director of research and academic engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance, an addiction policy advocacy group. “We have been in this overdose crisis for more than 20 years and there is no sign of any kind of slowdown in mortality.
In April, the Biden administration announced its plans to address the rising number of overdose deaths, including increasing access to harm reduction methods such as Naloxone, the drug that repeats overdoses.
Vakharia said he was pleased to see such a “historic” investment in improving access to damage reduction measures.
“Historical damage reduction is poorly funded and transferred to state and local funds or private funds to sustain itself,” he said.
However, much more needs to happen to address the magnitude of the problem, he added. There are currently “two legally operating above -ground overdose damage reduction centers in the country,” at a time when communities across the country need them, he said.
“And so I think all of our growth efforts can definitely be further developed, can be further expanded and further enhanced,” he added.