Fentanyl Overdose Death Rates in US More Than Tripled in Five Years

The death rates were highest among men, people aged 25 to 44, and Alaska Native, American Indian and Black people

Photos of fentanyl victims are on display at The Faces of Fentanyl Memorial at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.
By Ilena Peng
May 03, 2023 | 10:26 AM

Bloomberg — Drug overdose death rates involving fentanyl more than tripled in the US from 2016 to 2021, a grim marker in the escalation of the deadly opioid epidemic that worsened during the rise of Covid-19.

Age-adjusted fentanyl death rates rose to nearly 22 per 100,000 population in 2021, and the increase was most pronounced from 2019 to 2021, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics. Overdose death rates for methamphetamine and cocaine also rose over the same time period, quadrupling and doubling respectively.

Fentanyl, a synthetic form of pain-killing opioids like morphine, is a cheap, abundant street drug whose use became more widespread during the isolation of pandemic lockdowns. The drug played a leading role in some 80,000 US opioid overdose deaths recorded in 2021 alone. US Drug Enforcement Administration chief Anne Milgram has said fentanyl is “everywhere” and described it as “the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered.”

Overdose death rates were highest from fentanyl in comparison with other drugs in every race, region and age group, although some of the differences weren’t statistically significant, the authors said. The death rates were highest among men, people aged 25 to 44, and Alaska Native, American Indian and Black people.

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As concerns about the epidemic rise, the US and Mexico recently pledged to work together on tackling the fentanyl supply chain. The White House has declared combinations of fentanyl and xylazine, a dangerous animal tranquilizer, an emerging threat to the nation.

The study from NCHS, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also found that rates of overdose deaths dropped for oxycodone and heroin during the study period, though the decrease in heroin death rates was statistically insignificant.

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