Overdose deaths in US hit record 107,000 last year, CDC says

With opioid epidemic still rising, tragic milestone translates into one death from drug abuse every five minutes in US.

More than 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year, setting another tragic record in the nation’s escalating overdose epidemic, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated on Wednesday.

The provisional 2021 total marked a 15 percent increase from the previous record, set the year before. The CDC reviews death certificates and then makes an estimate to account for delayed and incomplete reporting.

Dr Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, called the latest numbers “truly staggering”.

The White House issued a statement calling the accelerating pace of overdose deaths “unacceptable” and promoting its recently announced national drug control strategy. It calls for connecting more people to treatment, disrupting drug trafficking and expanding access to the overdose-reversing medication naloxone.

US overdose deaths have risen most years for more than 20 years. The increase began in the 1990s with overdoses involving opioid painkillers, followed by waves of deaths led by other opioids like heroin and – most recently – illicit fentanyl.

Last year, overdoses involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids surpassed 71,000, up 23 percent from the year before. There also was a 23 percent increase in deaths involving cocaine and a 34 percent increase in deaths involving meth and other stimulants.

Overdose deaths are often attributed to more than one drug. Some people take multiple drugs and inexpensive fentanyl has been increasingly cut into other drugs, often without the buyers’ knowledge, officials said.

“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 in a statement.

Experts said the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem as lockdowns and other restrictions isolated those with drug addictions and made treatment harder to get.

Overdose death trends are geographically uneven. Alaska saw a 75 percent increase in 2021 – the largest jump of any state. In Hawaii, overdose deaths fell by 2 percent.

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