An estimate of 105,752 people died of a drug overdose in the 12-month period ending in October 2021, according to provisional data by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics released on Wednesday. This has led the annual drug overdose deaths to reach another record high in the US.
Approximately two-thirds of these deaths involved drugs such as fentanyl, a synthetic opioid and a more potent, faster-acting drug than natural opiates.
Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have had a rapid and dramatic rise; overdose deaths involving these drugs have nearly doubled over the past two years, from about 35,000 deaths by October 2019 to more than 69,000 in October 2021.
“Fentanyl, even at very, very small quantities, is lethal for most people,” said Katherine Keyes, an associate professor at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Her research focuses on psychiatric and substance use epidemiology.
She added, “It’s just an incredibly potent opioid.”
According to the CDC, overdose deaths from any drug surpassed 100,000 annually in data through April 2021. This recent data marks the seventh month in a row where estimates for the 12-month period have stayed above 100,000.
The CDC data showed that only New Hampshire, Hawaii, Delaware, and Wyoming saw yearly declines. Overdose deaths increased in all other US states.
Fifty-four lives were lost in these four states, but it is easily overshadowed by the overall loss nationwide, which is 15,000 more people than in the previous year, a 16% increase.
New federal data also shows that overdose deaths from methamphetamine and other psychostimulants increased to nearly 40% from the year before. They comprise about 30% of all overdose deaths in the latest 12-month period.
Keyes said these stimulants are often observed in overdoses with multiple drugs, sometimes intentionally but other times when adulterated with fentanyl, for example.
Caleb Banta-Green, a principal research scientist at the University of Washington’s Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute, has expressed that addressing these trends in overdose deaths requires “big, systems-level issues.”
“Reconceptualizing opioid-use disorder as an urgent health emergency is necessary,” he wrote in an email to CNN. Moreover, as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic linger, “mentally and financially depressed people are at increased risk for harms associated with opioids, so addressing wellness, poverty and housing are essential to health overall, including opioid-use disorder.”