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'Staggering' Rise in Drug Overdoses: CDC Counts 107,000 Deaths in 2021

More than 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year, setting another record in the nation’s escalating overdose epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated Wednesday. The 2021 total translates to one overdose death every 5 minutes. It marked a 15 percent increase from the previous record, set the year before, the Associated Press reports. The CDC reviews death certificates and then makes an estimate to account for delayed and incomplete reporting. Dr. Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse called the latest numbers “truly staggering.” U.S. overdose deaths have risen most years for more than two decades. The increase began in the 1990s with overdoses involving opioid painkillers, followed by deaths led by other opioids like heroin and illicit fentanyl.


Last year, overdoses involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids surpassed 71,000, up 23 percent from the year before. There also was a 23 percent increase in deaths involving cocaine and a 34 percent increase in deaths involving meth and other stimulants. Many overdose deaths are attributed to more than one drug. Some people take multiple drugs and inexpensive fentanyl has been increasingly cut into other drugs, often without the buyers’ knowledge. “The net effect is that we have many more people, including those who use drugs occasionally and even adolescents, exposed to these potent substances that can cause someone to overdose even with a relatively small exposure,” Volkow said. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem as lockdowns and other restrictions isolated those with drug addictions and made treatment harder to get. Overdose death trends are geographically uneven. Alaska saw a 75 percent increase in 2021 — the largest jump of any state. In Hawaii, overdose deaths fell by two percent.

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