In a sign of how deadly the drug epidemic has become in the United States, more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses in the country during the 12-month period ending April 2021.
According to provisional data published Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the national public health agency of the US, the overdose deaths jumped 28.5% from the same period a year earlier and nearly doubled over the past five years.
The data found that opioids remain the driving force of drug overdose deaths in the country, with synthetic opioids, mainly fentanyl, causing nearly two-thirds (64%) of all drug overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending April 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic killed about 509,000 people in same time period, between May 2020 and April 2021, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Overdoses jumped in all but four of 50 American states.
Using data from death certificates, the CDC estimates that 100,306 people died between April 2020 and April 2021, compared to 78,056 deaths reported the year prior.
The number of deaths from drugs has now surged past those from gun violence, car accidents and flu.
The highest spike in overdose deaths was recorded in Vermont, with 70% jump taking fatalities to 209. Vermont was followed by West Virginia (62%) and Kentucky (55%), the data revealed.
"What we're seeing are the effects of these patterns of crisis and the appearance of more dangerous drugs at much lower prices," Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, was quoted as saying by 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."
With international travel limited, synthetics that are easier to manufacture and more concentrated were likely more efficient to smuggle across borders, Volkow said.
Anne Milgram, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, at a White House press briefing on Wednesday said the US government has seized enough fentanyl this year to give every American a lethal dose, calling the overdose epidemic in the US "a national crisis" that "knows no geographical boundaries”.
The latest federal data shows that overdose deaths from methamphetamine and other psychostimulants also surged significantly, up 48% in the year ending April 2021, compared to the year before.
Last month, the US Department of Health and Human Services released an overview of the Biden Administration's plan to combat the menace of drug overdoses.
The plan includes measures aimed at addressing opioid prescription practices and removing barriers to treatments, as well as recovery support and federal support for harm reduction strategies.
Commenting on the latest report, US President Joe Biden on Wednesday said that "we cannot overlook this epidemic of loss, which has touched families and communities across the country."
In a statement discussing his administration's efforts to combat rising overdose deaths, Biden cited $4 billion in funding from the Covid-19 relief package.
"We are strengthening prevention, promoting harm reduction, expanding treatment, and supporting people in recovery, as well as reducing the supply of harmful substances in our communities. And we won't let up," Biden said. "To all those families who have mourned a loved one and to all those people who are facing addiction or are in recovery: you are in our hearts, and you are not alone. Together, we will turn the tide on this epidemic."
The new estimates from the CDC suggest drug overdose deaths fall somewhere between the number of deaths from Alzheimer's disease and diabetes. In 2019, Alzheimer's disease caused about 121,000 deaths and diabetes killed about 88,000 people in the US, CNN said.
Heart disease was the leading cause of death in the US in 2019, killing nearly 660,000 people, according to data from the CDC. Cancer caused nearly 600,000 deaths.
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