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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Drug overdoses killed a record 72,000 Americans last year, driven by a surge in synthetic opioids.

The big picture: "The dominant factor is the changing drug supply," epidemiologist Brandon Marshall told the N.Y. Times' Margot Sanger-Katz. The synthetic opioid fentanyl is increasingly found mixed with other drugs, and its potency is a factor in the uptick in overdoses.

Between the lines:

  • States are turning to medical marijuana as an opioid substitute, including efforts in New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
  • Police are shifting their focus to help addicts, including carrying overdose reversers in cruisers and allowing users to turn in their drugs without facing arrest.
  • National efforts to curb the crisis will take time: “Because of the forces of stigma, the population is reluctant to seek care. I wouldn’t expect a rapid downturn; I would expect a slow, smooth downturn," professor Dan Ciccarone told the Times.

The bottom line: Ending this epidemic is a bipartisan issue, and the supply of prescription opioids is falling nationwide. But our fellow Americans are dying, and we can't look away.

Go deeper: The congressional districts with the most opioids per person

Go deeper

33 mins ago - Health

CDC: It's time for "universal face mask use"

Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

The CDC is urging “universal face mask use” for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, citing recent case spikes as the U.S. has entered a phase of “high-level transmission” before winter officially begins.

Why it matters: Daily COVID-related deaths across the U.S. hit a new record on Wednesday. Face coverings have been shown to increase protection of the wearer and those around them, despite some Americans' reluctance to use them.

2 hours ago - World

Saudi Arabia and Qatar near deal to end standoff, sources say

Qatar's prime minister (R) attends the 2019 Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Saudi Arabia. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are close to a deal to end the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf following U.S.-mediated reconciliation talks this week, sources familiar with the talks tell me.

Why it matters: Restoring relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar would bring a sense of stability back to the Gulf after a 3.5 year standoff. It could also notch a last-minute achievement for the Trump administration before Jan. 20.

House passes bill to decriminalize marijuana

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a longtime marijuana legalization advocate and co-sponsor of the bill. Photo: Pete Marovich For The Washington Post via Getty Images

The House on Friday voted 228-164 in favor of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, marking the first time a congressional chamber has voted in favor of decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level.

Why it matters: The Washington Post describes the bill as a "landmark retreat in the nation’s decades-long war on drugs," which has disproportionately affected people of color.

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