More than 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in the yearlong period ending in April, government researchers said.

By Roni Caryn Rabin

Americans died of drug overdoses in record numbers as the pandemic spread across the country, federal researchers reported on Wednesday, the result of lost access to treatment, rising mental health problems and wider availability of dangerously potent street drugs.

In the 12-month period that ended in April, more than 100,000 Americans died of overdoses, up almost 30 percent from the 78,000 deaths in the prior year, according to provisional figures from the National Center for Health Statistics. The figure marks the first time the number of overdose deaths in the United States has exceeded 100,000 a year, more than the toll of car crashes and gun fatalities combined. Overdose deaths have more than doubled since 2015.

Administration officials said on Wednesday that they will expand access to medications like naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose, by encouraging states to pass laws that will make it more widely available and promoting its use by Americans.

“I believe that no one should die of an overdose simply because they didn’t have access to naloxone,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Sadly, today that is happening across the country, and access to naloxone often depends a great deal on where you live.”

Though recent figures through September suggest the overdose death rate may have slowed, the grim tally signals a public health crisis whose magnitude was both obscured by the Covid pandemic and accelerated by it, experts said.

“These are numbers we have never seen before,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The fatalities have lasting repercussions, since most of them occurred among people aged 25 to 55, in the prime of life, she added.

“They leave behind friends, family and children, if they have children, so there are a lot of downstream consequences,” Dr. Volkow said. “This is a major challenge to our society.”

The rise in deaths — the vast majority caused by synthetic opioids — was fueled by widespread use of fentanyl, a fast-acting drug that is 100 times as powerful as morphine. Increasingly fentanyl is added surreptitiously to other illegally manufactured drugs to enhance their potency.

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