The addiction crisis soars to new, record-breaking heights.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began collecting data on the opioid epidemic long before it reached record breaking status, more than two decades ago. Now, for the first time since the agency began to track use, the death toll has topped out at a million and overdose fatalities continue to climb.
The pandemic has brought with it a unique set of issues that the nation couldn’t have prepared for, and a sharp spike in the number of opioid overdoses was one such issue. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. was already in the midst of an addiction epidemic and the state of the country has only worsened this.
A study released in late December 2021 by the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the CDC, found that “932,364 people died in the U.S. from fatal overdoses from 1999 through 2020.” The CDC also released separate preliminary data showing the agency expected more than 100,000 drug deaths would be reached in 2021, a new record.
The hardest hit populations are those that should be in the prime of their lives. The federal agency indicated that, while the coronavirus targets the elderly the hardest, addiction is hitting young and middle-aged adults the most. These populations are the most likely to abuse drugs and develop addictions.
“Among adults aged 35–44, the age group with the highest rates, drug overdose deaths increased 33% from 2019 to 2020,” the report found, and it showed that men are also more susceptible to addiction than women. The CDC shared that it believes the opioid epidemic began in the late 1990s when the pharmaceutical and health care industries started using deceptive marketing to push their products and physicians began to prescribe addictive painkillers more aggressively.
Of course, litigation against these parties has taken center stage as of late with states, counties and communities finally realizing that these parties need to be held accountable. Last year, many of those plaintiffs were prosecuted and made to pay large fines for their part in driving the crisis.
Perhaps most concerning is the latest rise in illicit fentanyl use, a powerful synthetic opioid, as well as cocaine and methamphetamines. In 2020, young people “ages 15-24 saw the biggest year-to-year increase of fatal overdoses with deaths up 49%,” according to the CDC.
In December, Rep. Greg Murphy (Republican, N.C.) recently headed a group of fellow GOP Doctors Caucus members in sending a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asking that he take a closer look at the increasing illicit fentanyl crisis that is plaguing the U.S., especially at the southern border.
Murphy said, “Every city is a border city when it comes to the record amount of dangerous fentanyl flowing into the U.S. from Mexico and China.” Every city across the country has indeed been impacted by the opioid epidemic and fentanyl is coming into the U.S. at higher rates than ever before, compounding the dangerous of this crisis.
Harm reduction via medically assisted therapy and safe injection sites seems to be the best way to tackle addiction. Also in December, the first safe consumption site finally opened in the U.S. in New York City, where people can use illicit drugs under medical supervision. However, despite a sharp increase in the number of overdose fatalities, the site is expected to continue to face legal challenges for a long time to come.