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Drug overdose deaths in US in 2021 cross a record number

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Gas prices aren’t the only thing that surged this week. Tragically, new preliminary data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 11 revealed that 2021 heralded the highest number of deaths yet from drug overdoses in the United States.

Per the New York Times, this new data detailed a fifteen percent increase in fatal overdoses from previous years, with the 2021 casualties numbering nearly 108,000. The main culprits in this sad statistic were fentanyl and methamphetamine. Fentanyl use is at crisis levels and consistently getting more severe. This class of synthetic opioids is highly potent by itself and even more dangerous when mixed with other substances.

Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant and can be deadly. Yet, state health officials have observed that many of last year’s overdose deaths resulted from a fatal cocktail of fentanyl and methamphetamine. Deaths from both of these substances alone have been increasing over the years as they have become less expensive yet even deadlier.

Between 2020 and 2021, deaths from synthetic opioids, mostly fentanyl, increased from 58,000 to 71,000. Methamphetamine-related deaths, on the other hand, increased from 25,000 to 33,000. As it is available in powder form, fentanyl can easily be combined with other drugs such as cocaine and heroin. It is also used as a painkiller, further worsening the prescription opioid epidemic sweeping America. Fentanyl has even been mixed into counterfeit anti-anxiety medications like Xanax. Scores of people are not aware that they are consuming this substance.

Another factor that has led to increased overdoses is mixing stimulants and opioids. These combinations are called speedballs or goofballs, and they are becoming more common. Dan Ciccarone, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, has just started an extended study of this deadly mixture. He calls it an “intertwined synthetics epidemic” that has not been seen before.

It is not surprising that the overdose crisis noticeably spiked during the first year of the pandemic. Rather than dropping, the overdose deaths are holding steady. However, Regina LaBelle, an addiction specialist from Georgetown University, offers a more optimistic outlook as she reminds us that “one year does not equal a trend.”

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