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U.S. Reports More Than 100,000 Overdose Deaths In One Year

Overdose deaths of more than 100,000 Americans in one year are a new record that highlights the failure of the War on Drugs in keeping the country safe.

According to preliminary data, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Wednesday’s numbers. They show that overdoses claimed 100,306 Americans lives in the 12 months ending April 2021. Officials blame the overdose death spike on the rise in synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, and the pandemic of coronavirus.

“These are numbers we have never seen before,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told the New York Times. Volkow made a comment on the death toll from the statistics. He noted that most deaths took place among the 25- to 55-year-olds.

“They leave behind friends, family and children, if they have children, so there are a lot of downstream consequences,” Dr. Volkow said. “This is a major challenge to our society.”

Overdose Deaths Add to Covid-19’s Toll

According to Johns Hopkins University figures, 509,000 Americans died of Covid-19 during the same period. Millions were also left without access to medicine due to business closings and quarantines. Volkow also noted that the Pandemic caused border closings, making it easier for powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl to be smuggled into the country. These drugs were more dangerous than those naturally made but smaller and bulkier like heroin and morphine.

“What we’re seeing are the effects of these patterns of crisis and the appearance of more dangerous drugs at much lower prices,” Volkow said to CNN. “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.”

These new deaths, covering the period May 2020 to April 2021, reflect a 28.5% increase in deaths due to fatal overdoses in America compared the year before. This is also the first year in which more than 100 deaths occur in a single year. The number of deaths from overdoses caused by synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, increased 49% over last year. This contributed to 64% of all overdose deaths. Nearly 25% of deaths from overdoses involved stimulants such as methamphetamines, an increase of 48% over the prior year. Data also reveal modest rises in overdose deaths due to natural opioids and cocaine, as well as prescription medication.

Dr. Volkow said that while some drug users intentionally seek out fentanyl, others “may not have wanted to take it. But that is what is being sold, and the risk of overdose is very high.”

Access to care for people with substance abuse disorders was also affected by the pandemic. Experts predict that the number of overdose deaths in the United States will remain high as it reopens.

“Even if Covid went away tomorrow, we’d still have a problem. What will have an impact is dramatic improvement to access to treatment,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, medical director of opioid policy research at the Brandeis University Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

“These are deaths in people with a preventable, treatable condition. The United States continues to fail on both fronts, both on preventing opioid addiction and treating addiction,” he continued, adding that President Joe Biden should act on his campaign promises to address the continuing opioid crisis.

Lifes are saved by access to treatment

Wednesday’s model legislation was released by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to guide states as they pass laws increasing access to naloxone. Naloxone is a life-saving medicine that reverses opioid overdoses. Although buprenorphine is a common medication for opioid abuse disorder, access to it can often be limited. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published a plan in October to fight drug overdoses. It included federal support for harm reduction and rehabilitation services, and provisions to reduce barriers to treatment.

“If we really want to turn the corner, we have to get to a point where treatment for opioid addiction is easier to access than fentanyl, heroin, or prescription opioids are,” Kolodny said.

Beth Connolly (director of Pew Charitable Trusts substance-use prevention and treatment initiative) stated that improving access and availability to emergency treatment can decrease overdose deaths.

“The evidence is really clear that using medications to treat opioid addiction disorders saves lives,” said Connolly. “As we see more and more evidence that (medication) does save lives, that will hopefully reduce stigmatizing and categorizing in favor of supporting individuals.”