Fueled by the coronavirus pandemic and an increase in fentanyl use, the US drug epidemic exploded while Americans were locked down.
New federal data collected says America’s drug epidemic is the deadliest it has ever been. From May 2020 through April 2021, more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses in the US, according to provisional data released Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That’s a horrible new record for drug overdose deaths – a near-30% rise from the same period a year earlier and a near-doubling over the past five years.
The drug epidemic grew in tandem with the Covid-19 pandemic, which claimed about 509,000 deaths in the same time period.
Opioids continue to be the driving cause of drug overdose deaths. Synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, caused nearly two-thirds (64%) of all drug overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending April 2021, up 49% from the year before, the CDC’s ‘s National Center for Health Statistics found.
Fentanyl is being mixed in with other illicit drugs to increase the potency of the drug, sold as powders and nasal sprays, and increasingly pressed into pills made to look like legitimate prescription opioids. Because there is no official oversight or quality control, these counterfeit pills often contain lethal doses of fentanyl.
Synthetic opioids like fentanyl – a painkiller 50-100 times more potent than morphine – accounted for the bulk of those drug overdose deaths – around 64,000, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.
“In a crisis of this magnitude, those already taking drugs may take higher amounts and those in recovery may relapse. It’s a phenomenon we’ve seen and perhaps could have predicted,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The US government has seized enough fentanyl this year to give every American a lethal dose (333 million people), Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Anne Milgram said at a White House press briefing, calling the overdose epidemic in the US “a national crisis” that “knows no geographical boundaries, and it continues to get worse,” according to CNN.
Illegal drugs are often made to look like prescription pills, available online and sold through social media, according to a US Drug Enforcement Administration warning in September.
That same month the DEA announced more than 800 arrests and the seizure of more than 1.8 million pills as part of a two-month sweep.
The agency noted fentanyl has been seized in every state and it issued an urgent warning in September about fake prescription pills laced with the drug.
A scant 2 milligrams can be deadly, and they’re often cut in with counterfeit Oxycontin, Percocet, or other drugs.
Who abuses drugs – A lot of people. An estimated 10.1 million Americans ages 12 and older misused opioids in 2019, including 9.7 million prescription pain reliever abusers and 745,000 heroin users, according to CNN’s reporting.