Deaths from drug overdose in the United States jumped nearly 30 percent in a 12-month period ending in March 2021, according to provisional data released on Wednesday.
The United States saw a record high of 96,779 reported drug overdose deaths, an increase of 29.6 percent in the period of a year from March 2020—coinciding with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic— according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics.
The CDC notes that its figures are provisional as drug overdose deaths require “lengthy investigation” to be recorded. The latest figures come after the federal agency recorded a 29.7 percent rise in reported drug overdose deaths between February 2020 and February 2021.
All but three states saw a jump in reported overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending in March 2021, with Vermont recording the largest increase—85.1 percent. New Hampshire, New Jersey and South Dakota saw their number of overdose deaths fall in that timeframe. The largest decline was seen in South Dakota, at 16.3 percent.
The death numbers are based on death records received and processed by the National Center for Health Statistics from 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“It is important to remember that behind these devastating numbers are families, friends, and community members who are grieving the loss of loved ones,” Regina LaBelle, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told CNN.
The CDC data showed that opioids accounted for the highest number of reported drug overdose deaths in that time frame. The spike also appears to be driven by a jump in the use of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that has long been blamed for an escalating overdose death rate in the United States.
Fentanyl is most often manufactured in Mexico using chemicals supplied from China, and mixed with other narcotics to increase potency, as well as pressed into counterfeit pain pills commonly known as “Mexican oxys.”
In the past, fentanyl had mainly been mixed with heroin to boost the drug’s potency, but now it’s often pressed into small blue tablets and stamped with “M30” to closely match the color and markings of prescription oxycodone pills. Buyers may be unaware the pills contain fentanyl, of which a 2 mg dose can be fatal.
According to a U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) report published in August, China remains the primary source of illicit fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances being trafficked into the United States, despite the Chinese regime banning fentanyl and its analogs in 2019.
Last month, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warned the public of a “significant nationwide surge” in potentially lethal counterfeit prescription pills—the first time a nationwide alert has been issued on the matter in six years.
The DEA said in its rare public safety alert on Sept. 27 that more than 9.5 million counterfeit pills had been seized so far in 2021—more than the total seized in the previous two years.
The newly-released figures from the CDC covers the timeframe when lockdowns were implemented across the United States as part of efforts to curb the transmission of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
A study published in June found that shelter-in-place mandates, or lockdowns, failed to save lives during the pandemic. While fewer people may have died from COVID-19 because of such orders, deaths came in higher from drug overdoses, murders, and unintentional injuries, researchers said.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.