US surpasses record 100,000 overdose deaths in 2021

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More Americans died of drug overdose in 2021 than any year before, a grim milestone in an epidemic that has now claimed 1 million lives in the 21st century, according to federal data released Wednesday.

It is estimated that more than 100,000 Americans will die from drug overdoses by 2021, a 15 percent increase from the previous year. released by the National Center for Health Statistics. The total of 107,622 reflects the challenges exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic: lost access to treatment, social isolation and a more potent drug supply.

‘Cries for help’: Drug overdose soars amid coronavirus pandemic

More than 80,000 people died from opioid use, including prescription painkillers and fentanyl, a deadly drug 100 times more potent than morphine and increasingly found in other drugs. The number of deaths from methamphetamine and cocaine also increased.

Since the early 21st century, an overdose epidemic led by prescription painkillers and followed by waves of heroin, fentanyl and meth has killed more than 1 million people, or roughly the population of San Jose, according to preliminary data.

And there is no clear end in sight, experts say.

“2022 will probably be just as terrible as 2021 was, maybe worse,” said Keith Humphreys, an addiction and drug policy researcher at Stanford University.

Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said the country is coming out of the pandemic with a “significant increase” in depression, anxiety, loneliness and suicidal thoughts, “and that won’t go away.”

“I think the next few years will be challenging,” she said.

Officials warn they are responding to increasing numbers of overdoses as the pandemic continues. The office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro seized 1.8 million doses of fentanyl in the first three months of 2022, more of the potent synthetic opioid than in all of 2021.

Overdose deaths rose to unprecedented levels across the country in the first half of the pandemic and increased by 30 percent from 2019 to 2020. The pandemic put a strain on finances, mental health, housing and more for many, while at the same time affecting their lives. overshadowed the drug crisis. There are concerns that a predicted spike in coronavirus cases this fall could again limit access to treatment and medication.

Covid-19 has claimed as many lives in two years as the opioid epidemic in more than two decades. However, the victims of the drug epidemic are overwhelmingly young. According to a study published in January in JAMA Pediatrics, young Americans lost an estimated 1.2 million years of their lives from a drug overdose between 2015 and 2019.

They had battled addiction together. Then lockdowns became a ‘recipe for death’.

Rural areas in particular have been devastated by the overdose crisis during the pandemic as residents struggle to access remote, limited treatment options. Alaska had the largest increase in overdose deaths in 2021, about 75 percent, according to federal data. The National Center for Health Statistics is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In California, where an estimated 10,000 people died from overdoses in 2021, psychostimulants such as methamphetamine accounted for about half of overdose deaths and led to 15 percent more deaths than the previous year, according to an analysis of the data by the Washington Post. Opioid overdoses, including fentanyl, rose by more than 27 percent in the state.

Between 2018 and 2020, drug users in San Francisco switched from injecting tar heroin to smoking fentanyl after noticing improved health and reduced stigma, according to research co-authored by Alex Kral, an epidemiologist at RTI International who researched the disease. California drug supply. Kral said that as drug use has evolved, the data for the changes has lagged, leaving researchers and health experts somewhat blind to the different drug users who are more likely to co-use.

Experts are increasingly warning of a meth wave. In 2021, nearly 33,000 people died from psychostimulants, less than half of the deaths from opioids. Combining an opiate with a stimulant — commonly called a “speedball” — has become increasingly popular, said Daniel Ciccarone, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco who studies drugs.

While the more potent supply of drugs will continue to cause death, Ciccarone predicted that the increasing number of overdoses will level off or possibly decrease in the coming year as a result of a confluence of events: the pandemic easing, the government ramping up its response and pharmaceutical companies billions pay to help mitigate the crisis. Still, the number of people using drugs is also increasing, Ciccarone added.

“There’s something to be said about the question,” he said. “Why is America so drug-hungry? Why does that seem to increase generation after generation? Does it have anything to do with our economic inequalities and other inequalities?”

The uneven nature of this modern plague may be due in part to how fentanyl has seeped into the drug supply. It first dominated the Midwest and New England, but has spread across the country, Humphreys said, suggesting it and other synthetic drugs could drive out less potent drugs in the next decade. Fentanyl, which is increasingly found in counterfeit pills bought online and made in labs, is easier to manufacture than herbal drugs, he said.

“There may not be a lot of heroin around in 10 years because everything is fentanyl,” Humphreys said. “What do you do in a world where nobody needs a farm to make drugs anymore?”

Humphreys, who estimates that there could be another million deaths from overdose in the next decade if policies don’t change, said there is no panacea for tackling the multi-faceted crisis. But one of the healthiest ways to reduce overdoses, he said, is better access to naloxone, the drug used to reverse opioid overdoses.

“I think about naloxone the way I do about fire extinguishers,” he said. “In general, they sit on a wall and are not needed. But when there is a fire, nothing beats a fire extinguisher.”

A more potent naloxone is on the way. The question is whether it is necessary.

In a first, the Biden administration last month presented the National Drug Control Strategy to Congress to establish a roadmap for tackling untreated addiction and drug trafficking. The plan calls for an expansion of naloxone, drug test strips and syringe distribution programs.

While the plan is taking the right steps to limit the damage from the crisis, the damage has been done, said Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, director of global drug policy at Open Society Foundations. The upward trend in deaths will continue until ideas trickle down into actual policies for the worst affected communities.

As part of his strategy to curb the flow of fentanyl into the country, President Biden asked Congress in his budget for a $300 million increase in funding for U.S. customs and border protection and a $300 million increase for the United States. DEA.

Another problem for the administration is making sure the resources get to those who need them most, as the stigma of drugs has alienated some users.

Although the treatment has scaled up, it remains inaccessible to most people that it could help. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly 15 percent of people age 12 or older required substance use treatment in 2020, while 1.4 percent received it.

In addition, Malinowska-Sempruch said, Biden’s plan will stop recommending some solutions that could help drug users meet where they are, such as decriminalizing personal property and creating controlled injection sites, where trained monitors keep an eye on users to intervene and prevent overdoses.

“It will be a while before it can get better,” Malinowska-Sempruch said, “and that time will continue to cost lives.”

In the meantime, the Biden administration has made progress on “a new era of drug policy,” said Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, pointing to overdose prevention measures, such as the distribution of naloxone.

“It’s unacceptable that we lose a life every five minutes 24 hours a day from an overdose,” Gupta said.

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