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U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths Reach Record High

A medic escorts a 39-year-old woman to an ambulance after she was revived from an opioid overdose in Salem, Mass., August 2017. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Drug overdose deaths surpassed 100,000 in the United States between April 2020 and April 2021, a record high, per the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The estimated 100,306 deaths during that window represented a 29 percent increase from the estimated 78,056 overdose deaths during the same period last year, according to the latest CDC data.

“It’s telling us that 2021 looks like it will be worse than 2020,” Robert Anderson, head of the mortality statistics branch at the NHCS, told the Wall Street Journal. 

The increase in overdoses attributable to fentanyl, an especially potent and addictive synthetic opioid, is largely responsible for the surge in fatalities. The CDC attributed three quarters of the overdose deaths to opioids.

Increases in opioid use and overdoses are believed to have been made worse by the onset of the pandemic and the restrictions that accompanied it. Job losses and social isolation contributed to the already considerable problem.

The pandemic has also made it more difficult for people with opioid disorders to seek treatment. While overdoses rose, the frequency of in-person visits to receive methadone, an opioid used to treat addiction, declined. Other users who depended on picking up clean needles and wound-care supplies to prevent serious infections had less access to such programs.

Mexican drug cartels have been smuggling fentanyl-laced meth, heroin, and fake prescription pills across the border, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, causing some observers to wonder if lax enforcement at the southern border has further exacerbated the issue.

While the opioid crisis has long been concentrated in Appalachia, New England, and the Midwest, increases in overdose deaths are now being observed across the country, and especially in western states such as Nevada.

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