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U.S. surpassed a record 100,000 drug overdose deaths in 2021

U.S. overdose deaths hit record high in 2021
U.S. overdose deaths hit record high in 2021 00:35

There were more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. 2021, following a disturbing trend of increased overdose deaths year over year.

Between over a 12-month period, more than 103,000 overdose deaths were recorded in the U.S., according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is consistent with preliminary reports released last fall. 

However, the number of predicted overdose deaths in 2021 now exceeds 107,000, according to the NCHS data. That's about a 15% increase from 2020.

About 93,000 overdose deaths were recorded in 2020, about a 28% increase from the previous year. 

Opioids are the leading cause of overdose deaths, with 77,766 opioid overdoses recorded in 2021. Synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, are the second-leading cause of overdose deaths, with 68,303 recorded in the U.S. in 2021. The report came out one day after the first Fentanyl Awareness Day, established by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Historically, fentanyl deaths had been concentrated in the 28 states east of the Mississippi River, where the heroin market has primarily been dominated by white powder heroin. But NCHS data from 2020 shows 10 western states had the largest increase in synthetic opioid deaths – 98%. 

Increases in synthetic opioid overdose deaths were consistent in other regions in 2020 as well. 

Experts believe the COVID-19 pandemic is in part to blame for the increase in drug use. Many drug users became socially isolated, were unable to get treatment or other support and fentanyl became more prevalent in the illicit drug supply during the pandemic.

The CDC warns that substance use disorders can also increase the severity of illness from COVID-19 in an infected person.

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