In 2021, U.S. drug overdose deaths hit highest level on record, CDC data shows

Nearly 108,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2021, and about two-thirds of those deaths involved fentanyl or another synthetic opioid.

Overdose deaths have been on the rise for years in the US, but spiked amid the Covid-19 pandemic: Annual deaths were nearly 50% higher in 2021 than 2019, CDC data shows .

The spike in overdose deaths in the second year of the pandemic has not been as dramatic as the first year: overdose deaths increased by about 15% between 2020 and 2021, compared to a 30% jump between 2019 and 2020.

But the change is still brutal. In 2021, about 14,000 more people died from overdoses than in 2020, according to CDC data.

“This is indeed a continuation of a terrible trend. Overdose death rates have been on the rise for decades now, rising at an unprecedented rate just before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. United,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The pandemic has accelerated trends that were already heading in the wrong direction, and experts say reversing course will take concentrated efforts — and it will take time, both strategically and ideologically.

In February, Katherine Keyes, an associate professor at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health whose research focuses on psychiatric epidemiology and addiction, told CNN that easing Covid-19 restrictions would not mean immediate change. .

“You’re not going to see a reversal the same way you’ve seen acceleration because these drug delivery networks and addiction are integrating into the community. And it’s not like they’re dying out of the overnight,” Keyes said.

At the start of the pandemic, Keyes was part of a research team that modeled the potential impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on drug overdoses. They found that even if the pandemic ended overnight, the effects on drug overdoses would persist for at least a year.

Drug treatment was lacking even before the pandemic. In 2019, more than 20 million people aged 12 and older reported having a substance use disorder, of whom only 10% reported receiving care, according to a report from the Department’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. American Health and Human Services.
And a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation cites evidence that access to and use of these services has worsened further during the pandemic.

The illicit drug supply in the United States has also seen a “massive shift” over the past two decades, Volkow said.

“In the past, prescription drug abuse and heroin use were major drivers of overdose deaths. However, as fentanyl and other synthetic opioids began to infiltrate the drug market several years ago. years, we have begun to see how the increasing exposure of a cost-effective, easy-to-manufacture, and incredibly dangerous drug has dramatically increased the risk and vulnerability to drug overdose deaths.”

The growing use of the synthetic drug caught the attention of experts before Covid-19 hit, but the pandemic may have exacerbated the problem. With international travel restricted, the easier-to-make and more concentrated synthetics were likely more efficient at smuggling across borders, Volkow said.

Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, psychostimulants such as methamphetamine and cocaine all increased between 2020 and 2021, according to new CDC data. Deaths involving natural or semi-synthetic drugs, such as prescription drugs, fell slightly from the previous year.

“This is a devastating milestone in the history of America’s overdose epidemic. When reporting numbers, we must remember that each number represents an individual, their family and their community,” Volkow said. . “To compound this tragedy, we have already underused evidence-based treatments that could help many people. We need to meet people where they are to prevent overdoses, reduce harm and connect people to treatments. proven to reduce drug use.”


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