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Health Care

More Americans Than Ever Died of Drug Overdoses Last Year

Needles used for shooting heroin and other opioids and other drug paraphernalia in a park in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, Pa., in 2017. (Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

As Isaac Schorr noted earlier this morning, new preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control reveal that more than 93,000 people in the United States died of drug overdoses last year, up a shocking 30 percent from 2019, when the CDC reported that 71,000 people died of an overdose.

According to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, the steep rise in drug-overdose deaths was primarily the result of a continued surge in opioid-related overdoses, especially from opioids laced with fentanyl. About 69,000 of the 93,000 overdose deaths were opioid-related. Here’s more from BuzzFeed’s report on the new numbers:

While fentanyl is now linked to 3 out of 5 overdose deaths nationwide, the preliminary statistics suggest deaths from methamphetamine, cocaine, and prescription pain pills also increased in the last year. That likely reflects their contamination with fentanyl, and increasing use of multiple drugs together . . . As little as 2 milligrams of fentanyl can be a lethal dose; one survey conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration reported that 26% of counterfeit pain pills contained that dosage or higher.

Shannon Monnat, a professor at Syracuse University who researches the geographical patterns in overdoses in the U.S., told the Associated Press that the “poisoned drug supply” is at the root of this enormous uptick in overdose deaths. “Nearly all of this increase is fentanyl contamination in some way,” Monnat said. “Heroin is contaminated. Cocaine is contaminated. Methamphetamine is contaminated.”

Meanwhile, public-health experts suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns and isolation were almost certainly a major factor in this sharp uptick in drug use and deaths from overdose. It’s long past time for a national reckoning on this crisis.

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