Fentanyl, COVID Push Overdose Deaths to 100,000

overdose deaths

The CDC says the United States topped the grim OD milestone over the most recently reported 12-month period

By Jason Langendorf

Fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic and the proliferation of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, the number of overdose deaths in the United States has reached a grim new level.

On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its provisional drug overdose death counts, reporting 100,306 lethal overdoses in the U.S. over the 12-month period ending in April 2021—the first time the yearly total has ever reached six figures. The CDC indicates that overdose death numbers, which began climbing sharply as the pandemic took hold in the spring of 2020, were up 28.5% over its most recent report.

Fentanyl, a synthetic drug that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, has been a driving force behind the overdose crisis. Cheaply manufactured and relatively easy to smuggle into the U.S., fentanyl is increasingly being used as a replacement for other opioids.”

“What we’re seeing are the effects of these patterns of crisis and the appearance of more dangerous drugs at much lower prices,” Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), told 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.”

Fentanyl, a synthetic drug that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, has been a driving force behind the overdose crisis. Cheaply manufactured and relatively easy to smuggle into the U.S., fentanyl is increasingly being used as a replacement for other opioids and is finding its way into other illicit substances—often in trace amounts that may still be deadly.

Compounding that development has been the toll the pandemic has taken on Americans’ mental health, which has driven many to turn to substances as a coping mechanism.

The White House Reacts to the OD Crisis

Rahul Gupta

This makes the timing of an announcement on Wednesday from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) particularly important. The ONDCP released a model law developed by the Legislative Analysis and Public Policy Association (LAPPA) that provides states with a template for improving access to naloxone, the overdose reversal drug.

Naloxone is one of the most effective tools we have to save lives,” ONDCP director Rahul Gupta said of LAPPA’s Model Expanded Access to Emergency Opioid Antagonists Act. “But sadly, today, people with substance use disorders are overdosing and dying across the country because naloxone access depends a great deal on where you live.

“This model law,” Gupta said, “provides states with a framework to make naloxone accessible to those who need it.”

Top photo: Shutterstock

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