(Trends Wide) — America’s drug epidemic is the deadliest ever, new data from federal health authorities suggests.
More than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses in the United States during the 12-month period ending in April 2021, according to provisional data released Wednesday by the Centers’ National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). for the Control and Prevention of Diseases of the United States, CDC.
The figure is a new record, and overdose deaths were up 28.5% over the same period last year.
Recent interim data on drug overdose deaths reflects those that occurred between May 2020 and April 2021. Covid-19 killed an estimated 509,000 people in that same time period, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Opioids continue to be the leading cause of drug overdose deaths. Synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, caused nearly two-thirds (64%) of all drug overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending April 2021, up 49% from the previous year.
The causes of drug overdose deaths in the United States
The covid-19 pandemic and the rise in fentanyl use have been key factors in the rise in the number of overdose deaths, experts say.
“What we are seeing are the effects of these crisis patterns and the emergence of more dangerous drugs at much lower prices,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told Trends Wide.
Deaths from overdoses of methamphetamine and other psychostimulants also increased significantly, 48% more than last year. They accounted for more than a quarter of all overdose deaths in the past 12-month period. Deaths from cocaine and prescription painkillers also increased compared to the previous year, but not as dramatically.
Even as the country reopens and society returns to some pre-pandemic normalcy, experts say people will continue to die from drug overdoses at very high rates if steps are not taken to significantly improve access to treatment.
“Even if COVID-19 went away tomorrow, we would still have a problem. What will have an impact is a dramatic improvement in access to treatment, ”said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, medical director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Social Policy and Management. “If we really want to turn the corner, we have to get to a point where opioid addiction treatment is easier to access than fentanyl, heroin, or prescription opioids.”
Leading causes of death in the US
Interim overdose death data is updated monthly by the NCHS and is subject to change, as drug overdose deaths often require “extensive investigation, including toxicology testing” to confirm cause of death.
In 2019, heart disease was the leading cause of death in the US, according to CDC data, causing nearly 660,000 deaths. Cancer caused nearly 600,000 deaths in 2019, while accidents, chronic lower respiratory diseases, strokes, and Alzheimer’s disease also caused more than 100,000 deaths each.
These figures reflect final annual updates and are not directly comparable with provisional data.