US drug deaths up by 15 per cent

The number of fatalities in America’s ongoing drug-death crisis increased by 15 per cent in 2021, according to provisional figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Last year saw 107,622 deaths, bringing the overall total since the turn of the millennium to more than 1m.

drug deaths usa image of a man
Last year saw in excess of 100,000 deaths

The provisional figures are based on available death records and are subject to change as they ‘may not include all deaths that occurred during a given time period’, says CDC. However, while the number is significantly higher than 2020’s already record 93,655 deaths, the increase was half that of the 30 per cent jump between 2019 and 2020. 

Almost 81,000 of 2021’s deaths involved opioids, compared to just over 70,000 in 2020. There were more than 71,000 deaths involving fentanyl, as well as almost 33,000 involving methamphetamine and just over 24,500 involving cocaine – all up on the previous year – with overdose deaths increasing in every US state except Hawaii. The Biden administration recently launched its first drug strategy, with a marked shift towards harm reduction policies in an attempt to tackle the country’s ‘overdose epidemic’ (DDN, May, page 5). 

Once again, we are devastated by these numbers,’ said Jules Netherland of the Drug Policy Alliance NGO. ‘Over 107,000 of our friends, family and neighbours lost their lives to drug overdose last year. And sadly, we know the numbers will only continue to climb unless our policymakers actually do what is necessary to curb them. The United States has spent over 50 years and well over a trillion dollars on criminalisation – and this is where it has gotten us. We are grateful that the Biden administration has embraced harm reduction as part of their National drug control strategy, but we need to see that commitment met with Congressional funding and a massive scaling up of these health services. While it may not always be politically convenient, it’s time to be guided by the evidence about what works. Overdose deaths are avoidable and a policy failure—it’s time we stop recycling the same policies that got us here and take the actions that are necessary to save lives.’

Provisional drug overdose death counts here 

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