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U.S. Sees Historic Rise in Overdose Deaths

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Concerning preliminary data released Wednesday, May 11, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that overdose deaths in the United States in 2021 surpassed the previous record-breaking year of 2020.

Approximately 108,000 individuals died of a drug overdose in 2021, marking a 15% increase from 2020. While this increase is not as high as the 30% increase seen the previous year, such figures continue to alarm state and federal officials.

The crisis of drug overdose deaths has been exacerbated in recent years by the illegal manufacturing of fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid increasingly found mixed in with other drugs sold illegally.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told NPR, “These past three years we have seen an increase of contamination of other illicit drugs with fentanyl, be it cocaine, be methamphetamine, and more recently, illicit prescription drugs.”

Because illegal fentanyl is often manufactured as a white powder, it is easily disguised when mixed with other powdered drugs. It can even be compacted with other substances and sold as a pill.

Volkow continued, “In many instances, these may be people that take just one pill and they get that contaminated pill, and they can die.”

While Volkow and other researchers point to fentanyl as the likely culprit behind the overall increase in drug overdose deaths, some researchers are especially worried by its effect on teenagers.

A new study published in April points to an alarming trend in adolescent drug overdose deaths. The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Joe Friedman, found that adolescent overdose deaths practically doubled in 2020, spiking approximately 94% from 2019.

Friedman told NPR, “For decades, we’ve seen overdose rates rising among adults, and teens have been insulated from that. And now, for the first time, the overdose crisis is reaching teens as well.”

Drug overdose deaths long ago overtook death rates by car accidents and guns in the United States. In 2011, approximately 41,000 people died of a drug overdose. Ten years later, the annual number hovers around 108,000 — a more than 150% increase.     

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