It’s an increase that marks a grim record: the United States had some 107,000 overdose deaths in 2021, up 15% from the previous year, according to preliminary data released Wednesday, May 11, by US health authorities.

These figures mean that one person dies from an overdose every five minutes in the country. Of those deaths, more than 70,000 are linked to synthetic opiates like fentanyl, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This is followed by stimulants such as methamphetamine (more than 30,000 deaths), cocaine (nearly 25,000) and natural or semi-synthetic opiates such as heroin (about 13,000). Several drugs can be involved in the same death.

The United States had for the first time exceeded the impressive number of 100,000 overdose deaths over twelve months in April 2021. The 15% increase recorded for the year 2021 is however less than the increase of 30% which had been recorded between 2019 and 2020.

The Covid-19 crisis in question

The US opiate crisis has been aggravated by the Covid-19 epidemic, which has increased the isolation of certain populations, experts say. The largest increase in 2021 was seen in Alaska, where deaths increased by more than 75%.

Fentanyl, highly addictive and cheap to manufacture, is increasingly being mixed by traffickers with other drugs, according to the US drug enforcement agency, the DEA. It is also added to counterfeit pills for sale on the Internet, such as painkillers.

At the end of April, the government of Joe Biden announced an action plan to combat this crisis, focusing on two aspects: more care for addicts and the fight against drug trafficking. In particular, the US government wants to emphasize so-called “harm reduction” practices, such as the distribution of naloxone (an antidote capable of resuscitating a person overdosing on opioids), tests to check for the presence or absence of fentanyl, or programs for exchanging used needles with cleaners.

He also wants to improve access to treatment (methadone, buprenorphine, etc.). “We will double the number of admissions for treatment for populations most at risk of dying from overdoses,” Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the office in charge of the fight against drugs at the White House.


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