The U.S. set another record for drug overdose deaths last year with more than 107,000 fatalities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated Wednesday.
The provisional 2021 total represents a 15% jump from the previous record in 2020, and means there is roughly one overdose death in the country every 5 minutes.
While drugs like opioid painkillers, other opioids and heroin cause many deaths, fentanyl is the leading killer, causing 71,000 deaths last year, which was a 23% jump from the year before.
Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, called the latest numbers “truly staggering.”
Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. have been rising for more than two decades.
“It is unacceptable that we are losing a life to overdose every five minutes around the clock,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
“That is why [U.S.] President [Joe] Biden’s new National Drug Control Strategy signals a new era of drug policy centered on individuals and communities, focusing specifically on the actions we must take right now to reduce overdoses and save lives,” he said. “Those actions include expanding access to high impact harm reduction tools like naloxone, quickly connecting more people to treatment, disrupting and dismantling drug trafficking operations, and improving data to systems that drive the Nation’s drug policy.”
One reason fentanyl is responsible for so many deaths is that it is cheap and often mixed into other drugs without the buyer’s knowledge.
“The net effect is that we have many more people, including those who use drugs occasionally and even adolescents, exposed to these potent substances that can cause someone to overdose even with a relatively small exposure,” Volkow said in a statement.
Methamphetamine caused 32,856 overdose deaths, cocaine in 24,538 deaths, and prescription pain medications in 13,503 deaths in 2021.
COVID-19 lockdowns had an impact on overdose deaths as they made getting treatment more difficult for drug users.