More than 100,000 people died of a drug overdose from April 2020 through April 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, new figures from the federal government found.
The data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Wednesday shows a 28% increase in overdose deaths compared to the previous one-year period. Federal agencies sought to roll out new strategies to stem the renewed tide of overdoses.
“It’s time we recognize that we have been struggling in trying to deal with this epidemic,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, during a call with reporters Wednesday. “Since COVID-19 hit, it has gotten worse.”
CDC reported that an estimated 100,306 people died from a drug overdose during the one-year period, relying on mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System.
This is the first time that overdose deaths have reached more than 100,000 for a one-year period, according to agency figures.
For example, the predicted number of deaths from March 2020 through March 2021 was 98,976.
A major driver in the increase has been synthetic opioids such as the powerful fentanyl, which is up to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. There was a nearly 50% increase in fentanyl deaths over the one-year period, officials said.
The large spike in fentanyl overdoses has helped inform the government’s latest strategy to include harm reduction tools. For example, a key tool the federal government is looking to distribute is fentanyl test strips to help providers and patients root out any counterfeit pills.
It is important for “Americans to have the ability to make sure they can test for fentanyl in their substance to make sure they are not subjecting themselves to harm and potentially fatal risk,” said Rahul Gupta, M.D., director of National Drug Control Policy for the White House, during a call with reporters.
Becerra said that other parts of the government’s strategy include the proliferation of evidence-based treatment and recovery support.
“This strategy builds on the work this administration has already been doing this year, providing the real resources that are needed to prevent treatment and make sure folks recover,” he told reporters.