Health

Overdose Deaths Soared In 2021, Especially In Teens

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
Font Size:

2021 was the deadliest year in the United States on record, and another surge in drug overdose deaths was a contributing factor.

Provisional data from the National Center for Health Statistics estimates that at least 105,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2021, an increase from 93,000 in 2020. The fastest rate of increase occurred in adolescents, among whom overdoses more than doubled between 2019 and 2021.

The data isn’t yet finalized because overdose deaths require lengthier verification and reporting processes than other types of deaths, but data verified through October 2021 puts the U.S. on track to reach the 105,000 mark. Around 1,150 of them were in Americans aged 14 to 18 years, an increase from 954 in 2020. Prior to that year, the number was typically static around 500 per year.

Experts say the teen overdose spike is being driven by fentanyl use, according to the Associated Press. Fentanyl is often cut into heroin or counterfeit prescription drugs abused by teens. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl accounted for about two-thirds of overdose deaths in the past year, and deaths due to synthetic opioids or psychostimulants have doubled in the past two years. (RELATED: INVESTIGATION: How Fake Pills Spiked With Fentanyl Are Killing Americans)

Some officials have made fentanyl overdoses a key issue of the immigration debate, as record amounts of the substance have been seized at the southern border in recent years. A substantial amount of fentanyl used in the United States is trafficked across the southern border by drug cartels operating throughout Latin America.