Medical Technology

US Overdose Deaths Rise to an All-Time High

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that an estimated 100,306 Americans died of drug overdoses between April 2020 through April 2021. This is a 28.5 percent increase over the previous year.

Some states saw an even greater rise in deaths. Vermont experienced an almost 70 percent increase, while deaths from overdoses in West Virginia increased by 62%. Overdose deaths increased by 45-50 percent in many states, including Alabama and California, Kansas, Kentucky. Louisiana, Tennessee, Tennessee, Washington.

The data that the CDC released was a provisional one due to the typical delay between an overdose and the death of overdose. The agency uses statistical models that make count almost 100 percent accurate according to the CDC says.

The vast majority (73,757) of overdose deaths included opioids, with the majority (62,338) being synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Federal officials claimed that one American died every 5 minutes from an overdose or 265 per day.

“We must recognize the reality of this -it’s a crisis” Secretary Xavier Becerra of the US Department of Health and Human Services, said to reporters on a conference call.

“As much as the numbers tell the story clearly, they don’t tell the entire story. We can see it in the faces of grieving families as well as caregivers who are overworked. It’s there each time you receive an emergency 911 call in a panic. You can also see it in the obituaries for sons and daughters who have passed away too early,” Becerra stated.

Rahul Gupta MD, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy stated that “this is not acceptable and requires an unparalleled response.”

Gupta who said he’s been granted a waiver to treat substance use disorder patients with buprenorphine, said he’s seen “first-hand the heartbreak of the overdose epidemic,” adding that, with 23 years of experience, “I’ve learned that an overdose is a cry for help and for far too many people that cry goes unanswered.”

Both Becerra and Gupta both urged Congress to approve President Joe Biden’s budget request for fiscal 2022, noting that it includes $41 billion — a $669 million increase from fiscal year 2021 — for agencies that work on drug interdiction as well as substance use prevention, treatment and recovery support.

Gupta also announced that the administration would be issuing an example law that could be used by state legislatures to create a uniform policy for making the antidote for overdose naloxone more readily available. In the present, these laws are in a patchwork across the nation.

In addition the federal government is newly helping to reduce harm, Becerra said. This means that clinics and outreach programs are able to use federal funds to purchase fentanyl testing kits, which they can then distribute to drug users. Gupta declared that Americans should be able to test for fentanyl in all substances.

Fentanyl, Fake Pills a Major Issue

Federal officials have stated that both fentanyl as well as methamphetamine are contributing to rising numbers of fatalities.

Anne Milgram, administrator at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), stated that Mexican drug cartels are producing massive quantities of methamphetamine and fentanyl that are mainly found in the form of chemicals from China and are distributing these substances across America.

Milgram said the agency has taken 12,000 pounds of fentanyl in 2021, enough to provide every American with the lethal dose. Milgram declared that fentanyl was often combined with cocaine, heroin, and cannabis — often in counterfeit drugs.

The DEA and other law enforcement agencies have confiscated more than 14 million of these pills in 2021. Milgram said that these kinds of pills are available on social media and online e-commerce websites.

“Drug dealers are present in our homes,” she said. “Wherever there is an internet-connected phone or computer and a dealer is just a click away,” Milgram said.

National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow, MD, said dealers will continue to promote methamphetamine and fentanyl as they are the most addictive drugs. They also have higher profits because they do not require harvesting or cultivation as she said during the conference call.

Volkow also pointed out that naloxone isn’t as effective in reverse overdoses of fentanyl. Fentanyl is more potent than heroin and other opioids, and “it gets into your brain extremely quickly.”

Volkow stated that ongoing research is being conducted to create a more efficient delivery system as well as a long-lasting formula to counter overdoses.

Alicia Ault is a Lutherville Maryland-based freelance journalist whose work has appeared in various publications, including JAMA,, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. You can connect with her on Twitter @aliciaault.

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