Annual Overdose Deaths Exceed 100K for the Very First Time

December 9, 2021

4 mins

Dane O'Leary


According to the CDC, the rate of annual overdose deaths has breached 100,000. Let's take a closer look at this tragic milestone to identify potentially influential factors.

Drug overdose deaths in the United States have reached a record high. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 100,000 people suffered fatal drug overdoses across a 12-month period between April 2020 and April 2021.

In the face of this unfortunate milestone, let's dive a little deeper to discuss some of the factors that may have contributed to this statistic as well as some of the things that can be done to alleviate it.

What Is Causing The Rising Death Rates?

The overdose death rate has been slowly climbing for several years but made a massive jump, with a 28.5% rise from 2019. In 2019, 70,630 drug overdose deaths were reported, which was a 4.3% increase from 2018. This upward trend in annual overdose deaths is partly due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, such as lack of access to substance abuse programs, and the increased use of synthetic opioids.

What Are Synthetic Opioids?

Synthetic opioids are synthesized substances that mimic the effects of natural opioids. Their increased usage is due to their fast-acting qualities and low cost. Unfortunately, synthetic opioids have become one of the leading contributors to the record-high number of overdose deaths, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all overdose deaths.

Fentanyl is the most prominently used synthetic opioid. It is used to treat pain and is exponentially more potent than morphine. Illegally produced fentanyl has been growing in popularity due to its “heroin-like” effects. However, illegally produced fentanyl is often laced with other substances such as heroin and is a highly dangerous substance.

... synthetic opioids have become one of the leading contributors to the record-high number of overdose deaths, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all overdose deaths.

The rise in the overdose death rate is also caused by increased methamphetamine, cocaine, and prescription pain medication use. In addition, methamphetamine and other psychostimulants accounted for an overdose death increase of over 25 percent, indicating that there's been a major increase in the use of these types of substances.

Covid And The Overdose Crisis

The Covid-19 pandemic is a significant contributor to the increase in overdose deaths. The pandemic lockdown and restrictions have isolated people in an unprecedented way. Separating people from their social support structures, family and friends have created issues with mental health and addiction. 

The pandemic has also made it increasingly difficult to seek treatment for addiction and substance abuse. As a result, there has been a decrease in addiction treatment, and other medical needs as healthcare systems are overwhelmed by covid patients and strict mandated restrictions and limitations around treatment.

Production and use of synthetic opioids were rising before the pandemic began. Still, the unprecedented increase in overdose deaths is a sure sign of the pandemic’s impact on people. Another example of this is the rise in cancer deaths and higher stage diagnoses, as people were not actively seeking medical services during the pandemic.

Even as the world begins to recover from the pandemic and reopen, it is believed that the effects of Covid on drug addiction and overdose deaths will not soon go away. Instead, the symptoms of the pandemic will continue to be felt as we attempt to address and end this crisis.

One of the positive aspects that have come out of the Covid pandemic is the increased awareness around public health, which is a conversation that could potentially lead to positive changes and progress.

Leading Cause Of Death

Overdose deaths are the 8th highest cause of death between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

This increase in overdose deaths has made overdoses one of the top ten leading causes of death in the US. Overdose deaths are currently the 8th highest cause of death between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. In previous years overdose deaths fell below diabetes. Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the US.

What's Being Done About the Surging Overdose Rate?

The Biden administration recently acknowledged the increase in overdose deaths and announced the strategy for addressing the crisis.

The short-term goal is to assist states with legislation allowing increased access and distribution to naloxone, a drug used to treat overdoses. Naloxone, or as it is more commonly known as Narcan. It is a drug that effectively reverses the symptoms of an overdose. The long-term goals include the expansion of treatment programs and prevention. The recently passed infrastructure bill promises to allocate funds to the improvement and accessibility of substance abuse treatment and awareness.

What Can We Do?

Overdose deaths have reached an all-time high as the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic negatively impact mental health, and the influx of synthetic opioids makes its way through the country. So, what can be done to improve these numbers?

First, if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, reach out and seek treatment. Though Covid-19 restrictions are still in place and can make it challenging to begin treatment, know that you are not alone, and treatment is possible. Help is available.

For more information about drug overdose, or if you or a loved one is ready to begin the journey of recovery, call Never Alone Recovery today. Our team is always available to help.

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