Well-Being

US drug overdose deaths hit another record high

More than 107,000 Americans died from overdoses in 2021.
The Associated Press/Uncredited

Story at a glance

  • An estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths occurred in the U.S. last year, the largest number of fatal overdoses ever recorded in a calendar year.

  • The data show a nearly 15 percent increase from the 93,655 deaths that took place over the course of 2020, a year that saw a 30 percent spike in fatal overdoses from the year prior. 

  • The synthetic opioid fentanyl has fueled the unprecedented surge.

A record number of Americans died from drug overdoses in 2021 as the powerful opioid fentanyl continues to fuel a national drug crisis. 

New provisional data released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show an estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths occurred in the U.S. last year, the largest number of fatal overdoses ever recorded in a calendar year. 

The data show a nearly 15 percent increase from the 93,655 deaths in 2020, a record year that saw a 30 percent spike in fatal overdoses from the year prior. The provisional numbers are subject to change. 

Overdose deaths involving opioids such as illicit fentanyl and heroin jumped from an estimated 70,029 in 2020 to 80,816 in 2021. Deaths involving drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine also saw significant increases. Deaths from synthetic opioids alone increased from 57,834 in 2020 to 71,238 last year. 


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“These data surpass another devastating milestone in the history of the overdose epidemic in America,” Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told Changing America in a statement. 

“Compounding the tragedy, we have underused treatments that could help many people. We must meet people where they are to prevent overdoses, reduce harm, and connect people to prevent treatments to reduce drug use.” 

Fentanyl and other potent synthetic opioids have permeated the illicit drug market as they are cheap to manufacture and incredibly potent. 

Fentanyl, which is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin and up to 100 times stronger than morphine, is often mixed with other powder drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine, and is also used to manufacture counterfeit pills made to look like legitimate prescription drugs such as Oxycodone and Percocet sold on the street or the internet. 

This dynamic has resulted in a troubling trend in which people are overdosing after unknowingly ingesting fentanyl. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in April sent a letter to law enforcement agencies warning of “mass-overdose events” across the country caused by fentanyl. Just last week, Ohio State University issued a warning to students about fake Adderall pills containing fentanyl following the apparent fatal overdose of two students

“Fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a statement Tuesday marking the agency’s first ever “National Fentanyl Awareness Day.” 

“Fentanyl is everywhere. From large metropolitan areas to rural America, no community is safe from this poison. We must take every opportunity to spread the word to prevent the fentanyl-related overdoses claiming scores of American lives every day,” Milgram said. 

The White House last month unveiled a plan to tackle overdose deaths, which emphasized harm reduction strategies such as increasing access to clean needles, fentanyl test strips and Naloxone, a drug used to rapidly reverse opioid overdoses. 


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