Health

Overdose Deaths Reach Record High, Fueled By Fentanyl From Mexico And China

(Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
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Overdose-induced deaths surged yet again in 2021 to record highs, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released Wednesday.

Nearly 108,000 Americans died of overdoses last year, according to the provisional data published by the CDC. That’s a 15% increase from 2020, coming off of a 30% increase the year before. Much of the surge was driven by use of fentanyl and methamphetamine.

The provisional numbers could be revised down the line, but paint a dark picture in a country where overdose deaths have increased every year but one since the 1970’s. Overdoses now account for a similar number of American deaths as Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.

The number of deaths attributed to synthetic opioids — which includes fentanyl — increased from 58,000 to 71,000, the CDC reported. Methamphetamine deaths jumped from 25,000 to 33,000. Fentanyl is particularly dangerous because it can be mixed with or substituted for other common drugs, including heroin, meth and cocaine, or be combined into counterfeit pills for prescription drugs. A dose of fentanyl as small as two grains of sand can be lethal.

President Joe Biden has sought to address the crisis, recently releasing his administration’s National Drug Control Strategy. The plan embraces the “harm reduction” approach to reducing drug-related deaths, which involves trying to make drug use safer, rather than enforce abstinence. Some critics of the approach have said it simply enables drug addicts to continue using.

Experts say the ongoing increase in overdose deaths is largely caused by social isolation and economic hardship, both of which intensified during the pandemic. However, fentanyl supply has also surged during the same time period. (RELATED: ‘Just One Pill’: Parents Tell The Stories Of The Children They Lost To The Fentanyl Crisis)

The low-cost drug is frequently produced in China and shuttled across America’s southern border into American communities afflicted by the opioid crisis or recreational drug use. An increasing share of substances marketed as drugs like Oxycontin, Xanax or Adderall now includes fentanyl, studies have found.

Critics say the Biden administration has not done enough to crack down on fentanyl shipments crossing the southern border from Mexico. Authorities have seized record amounts of the drug from traffickers in recent months, but some states are still suing the administration for failing to protect their communities from the substance.