When the year began, the US was on the track of setting yet another record of high drug overdoses deaths. According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 100,000 people died over 12 months from fatal drug overdoses—that being a first in US history.
“This tragic milestone represents an increase of 28.5 percent over the same period just last year,” Dr. Deb Houry with the CDC said during a call with reporters on Wednesday.
According to the CDC data released on Wednesday, deaths from synthetic opioids such as Fentanyl and Heroin accounted for more than 75 percent of deaths during the 12-month period that ended in April.
Fentanyl alone made for nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of overdose deaths for the same period. An uptick from the previous period where it accounted for close to 50 percent of deaths.
Overdose deaths from Methamphetamine also saw an increase in the 12 months. As deaths from synthetic opioids soared so did those of abused natural and semisynthetic opioids—prescription pain meds and cocaine.
Compared to the previous 12-month period, opioid-related deaths increased by 35 percent, with 56,064 estimated deaths in April 2020 and an estimated death of 75,673 in April 2021.
The spike seen in the number of overdose deaths in the US seems to run simultaneously with the Covid-19 fatalities, which at the 12-month mark stood at 509,000 people, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Earlier this year when preliminary CDC data was realized, the CDC said that the increase in overdose deaths could be linked to the pandemic. When the pandemic hit Americans underwent social isolation, economic stress, and disrupted access to treatment facilities and providers.
In a survey conducted by the CDC from June 30, 2020, 13 percent of more than 5,400 respondents reported that they had started or increased their substance abuse because of the emotional stress brought on by the pandemic.
Moreover, experts also feel the number of overdoses has increased due to the availability of more dangerous street drugs and the disruption to drug treatment programs caused by the pandemic.
“What we’re seeing are the effects of these patterns of crisis and the appearance of more dangerous drugs at much lower prices,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told CNN. “In a crisis of this magnitude, those already taking drugs may take higher amounts and those in recovery may relapse. It’s a phenomenon we’ve seen and perhaps could have predicted.
This comes at a time where Mexican Drug cartels are illicitly mixing other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA with fentanyl. Drug cartels have realized that lacing drugs the high obtained is more potent at comes at a cheaper cost.
“Drug dealers are maximizing their profits by lacing or contaminating drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine with fentanyl. By doing that they are making them much more powerful and this is at the essence of the most challenging problems that we have,” Dr. Nora Volkow told the USA today.
Amid the opioid epidemic, a public safety alert from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said that a lethal dose of fentanyl is small enough to fit on the tip of a pencil.
Data released from the CPB revealed that the amount of fentanyl seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection has increased by 51.45 percent in the first months of 2021, compared to 2020.
Late last month, the Department of Health and Human Services provided an overview of the Biden Administration’s strategy to fighting the drug pandemic. In the same vein, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy released a model law that will provide US states with a template to pass their own legislation on naloxone availability—a drug that reverses opioid overdoses.
Evidence has shown that the use of medication to treat opioid addiction is effective. The Biden Administration is working towards making treatment for opioid addiction easier to access than fentanyl, heroin, or prescription opioids.
“To all those families who have mourned a loved one and to all those who are facing addiction or are in recovery: you are in our hearts,” President Biden said in a statement issued by the White House. “Together, we will turn the tide on this epidemic.”