Overdose deaths up 30%, CDC says most due to illicit fentanyl

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In a newly released set of data, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said overdose deaths had risen 30%, with even bigger increases for minorities in 2020. The biggest cause of the increase in deaths, according to the CDC, is “illicitly produced fentanyl.”

Fatal overdose data was released in the newest CDC Vital Signs report. The CDC reported there were 91,799 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2020, accounting for the 30% increase compared to the year before. The overdose data was analyzed from numbers in 25 states and the District of Columbia.

According to the CDC, “there was a historic 30% increase in overdose deaths in the United States from 2019 to 2020. In one year, overdose death rates increased 44% for Black people and 39% for American Indian and Alaska Native people.” The agency said this occurred “against the backdrop” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CDC said the number of overdose deaths per 100,000 people, how they measure the rate of deaths, had increased 22% for White Americans, a historic high.

Fentanyl itself has become increasingly prevalent in the United States. A recent report by the Drug Enforcement Administration said there has been an increase in mass-overdose events in Florida. The report said that synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, “are highly addictive and inexpensive to produce, leading criminal drug networks to increasingly mix it with other illicit drugs—in powder and pill form—in an effort to drive addiction and attract repeat buyers.”

The DEA’s Miami Field Division said their agency had found 2 milligrams of fentanyl counted as a lethal dose of the drug. Their report cited early CDC estimates that 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses from February 2021 to January 30, 2022.

The year before, the DEA said 105,000 Americans had died of drug overdoses from November 2020 to October 2021, with 66% of those deaths “related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.” The agency reported more people died from fentanyl than gun and auto-related deaths combined in 2021.

“Fentanyl is killing Americans at an unprecedented rate,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said. “Already this year, numerous mass-overdose events have resulted in dozens of overdoses and deaths.  Drug traffickers are driving addiction, and increasing their profits, by mixing fentanyl with other illicit drugs. Tragically, many overdose victims have no idea they are ingesting deadly fentanyl, until it’s too late.”

The state of Florida is also working on several efforts to address overdose deaths, as well as specific strategies to handle fentanyl. On Friday, the Florida Department of Health released a statement of the new tools it would be using to deal with the “overdose crisis” affecting the state, and country. The announcement came after seven were found unresponsive in Tampa after local law enforcement said they consumed bad drugs.

The initiative from FDOH will be in partnership with the Florida Department of Children and Families, according to their announcement.

“Substance use disorder significantly impacts the health and lives of individuals suffering from it,” State Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo said. “Increasing awareness of drug abuse and available resources can help save Floridians from devastating and fatal health consequences.” Provisional data from the CDC found that as of February 2022, 7,900 drug overdose deaths had been reported in Florida over the preceding 12 months.

Part of the issue, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, was the “disruption in access to prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery support services.” The CDC said this disruption “likely contributed to” the rise of overdose deaths. The more recent increases were also “largely driven by illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (IMFs).”

The federal health agency reported the pandemic had put the socioeconomic and ethnic disparities into sharper focus when it came to health care access in low-income communities and communities of color.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted long-neglected disparities in access to and provision of health care among AI/AN, Black, and Hispanic persons. The findings in this report underscore the increasing impact of the escalating overdose crisis on these populations. More stigmatization, criminalization, and lack of access to evidence-based treatments among racial/ethnic minority groups with substance use disorders have been well-documented,” the CDC reported. “These barriers might further elucidate the disparities observed in reported history of substance use treatment and overdose death rates by income inequality and mental health provider availability among Black and AI/AN persons.”

The CDC said just because a treatment service was more available did not mean care was more accessible, citing “known differences in access, barriers to care, and healthcare mistrust” among some communities. Still, the rise in overdose deaths among Americans, particularly in what the agency called “long-neglected” demographics added to the CDC’s priority to address what they say were preventable deaths.

“The increase in overdose deaths and widening disparities are alarming,” CDC Acting Principal Deputy Director Dr. Debra Houry, M.D., M.P.H. said. “Overdose deaths are preventable, and we must redouble our efforts to make overdose prevention a priority.”

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