The U.S. overdose death rate involving fentanyl nearly quadrupled between 2016 and 2021, says a new federal report. The growing fentanyl crisis has spurred state and federal lawmakers to target the trafficking of the synthetic opioid, expand access to opioid overdose antidote Narcan, and decriminalize fentanyl test strips to use as a prevention tool. The sheer scale of the epidemic and how it's evolved into one defined by fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills makes addressing the crisis difficult, Axios reports. The system for coding overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids does not distinguish between specific drugs, making it harder to monitor trends. The new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report parses out data for the five opioid and stimulant drugs — fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and oxycodone — that contribute most to overdose deaths. This data could be critical in informing the public health response to an epidemic that kills an average of 100,000 Americans per year. Using death certificates via the National Vital Statistics System, CDC found overdose death rates involving oxycodone — an early driver of the epidemic — continued to decline as the death rate from methamphetamine, cocaine and fentanyl increased.
Age-adjusted death rates involving fentanyl were the highest among Indigenous people in 2021 at 33.1 deaths per 100,000 people, which was 1.3 times higher than their white counterparts. For Black Americans, the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl was 31.3 per 100,000 people in 2021. Among those aged 25-31 and 35-44, drug overdose death rates were highest for fentanyl in 2021 at 40.8 and 43.5 deaths per 100,000 people, respectively. The death rate for fentanyl overdoses for males was 2.6 times the rate for females. The U.S. has also seen deadlier, more powerful drugs — like “zombie drug” xylazine and synthetic opioid nitazene — enter a supply at a rate that has overwhelmed medical examiner’s offices. The Food and Drug Administration and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will hold a two-day public meeting next week about the best strategies for initiating opioid addiction treatment. Some state and local lawmakers are discussing whether increasing penalties for fentanyl distribution and possession penalties would help reduce overdose deaths.