Over 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2021, translating to roughly one fatal overdose every five minutes, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday.
The increase in US overdose deaths began in the 1990s with an uptick in abuse of opioid painkillers, followed by similar trends involving heroin and illicit fentanyl.
In 2021, there were over 71,000 fatal overdoses involving fentanyl and synthetic opioids, up 23% from the previous year. There was also a 23% increase in cocaine-related deaths and a 34% in deaths involving meth and other stimulants.
The preliminary 2021 estimate also marks a 15% increase from the previous record set in 2020. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, called the latest statistics “truly staggering.”
Experts attributed the shocking estimate to problems stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, as lockdowns further isolated those struggling with addiction and made treatment options more disparate.
Overdose deaths are also geographically uneven, with Alaska seeing a 75% jump – the largest of any state – while drug fatalities in Hawaii fell by 2%.
Drug fatalities are often attributed to multiple substances. Cheap fentanyl, in particular, is often cut with other drugs without the buyer’s knowledge.
“The net effect is that we have many more people, including those who use drugs occasionally and even adolescents, exposed to these potent substances that can cause someone to overdose even with a relatively small exposure,” Volkow said.