May 11, 2022 - Health

U.S. surpassed 100,000 overdose deaths in 2021

A bag of prescription drugs being poured into a box at a drug reclamation event organized by the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles in 2021.
A bag of prescription drugs being poured into a box at a drug reclamation event organized by the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles in 2021. Photo: Patrick Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

More than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2021, more than in any other year on record, according to provisional data released by the National Center for Health Statistics Wednesday.

Why it matters: The grim milestone, a 15% increase from overdose deaths in 2020, occurred during the coronavirus pandemic, which also killed over 415,000 in the country that year and almost 1 million in total so far.

  • The data presented is incomplete, as many deaths require more investigating to confirm a cause, though estimates rarely largely differ from the final totals.

The National Center for Health Statistics said at least 107,622 people died from overdoses in 2021, a major increase from the estimated 93,655 deaths in 2020.

  • Overdose deaths involving opioids increased from an estimated 70,029 in 2020 to 80,816 in 2021.
  • Alaska experienced the largest percentage increase in overdose deaths in 2021. Deaths there were up by 75.3%.

The big picture: Overdose deaths passed 100,000 in a 12-month period for the first time in November 2021.

What they're saying: “It is unacceptable that we are losing a life to overdose every five minutes around the clock," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

  • "That is why President Biden’s new National Drug Control Strategy signals a new era of drug policy centered on individuals and communities, focusing specifically on the actions we must take right now to reduce overdoses and save lives."
  • The Biden administration last month sent Congress its first national drug control strategy, which emphasizes addressing untreated addiction through harm reduction strategies and evidence-based treatments and clamping down on drug trafficking.

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