Tablets believed to be laced with fentanyl are displayed at the Drug Enforcement Administration Northeast Regional Laboratory on October 8, 2019 in New York. - According to US government data, about 32,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2018. That accounts for 46 percent of all fatal overdoses. Fentanyl, a powerful painkiller approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for a range of conditions, has been central to the American opioid crisis which began in the late 1990s. (Photo by Don EMMERT / AFP) (Photo by DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images)
During the pandemic, another devastating health crisis was growing
02:39 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

America’s drug epidemic is the deadliest it has ever been, new federal data suggests.

More than 100,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States during the 12-month period ending April 2021, according to provisional data published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s a new record high, with overdose deaths jumping 28.5% from the same period a year earlier and nearly doubling over the past five years.

Opioids continue to be the driving cause of drug overdose deaths. Synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, caused nearly two-thirds (64%) of all drug overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending April 2021, up 49% from the year before, the CDC’s ‘s National Center for Health Statistics found.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the rise in use of fentanyl have both been key contributors to the rising overdose death toll, experts say.

The latest provisional data on drug overdose deaths captures those occurring in May 2020 through April 2021. Covid-19 killed about 509,000 people in that same timeframe, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

“What we’re seeing are the effects of these patterns of crisis and the appearance of more dangerous drugs at much lower prices,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told CNN. “In a crisis of this magnitude, those already taking drugs may take higher amounts and those in recovery may relapse. It’s a phenomenon we’ve seen and perhaps could have predicted.”

But the rise of fentanyl, a stronger and faster-acting drug than natural opiates, has made those effects even more deadly, she said.

Increasing use of the synthetic drug caught the attention of experts before Covid-19 hit, but the pandemic may have exacerbated the problem.

With international travel limited, synthetics that are easier to manufacture and more concentrated were likely more efficient to smuggle across borders, Volkow said.

The US government has seized enough fentanyl this year to give every American a lethal dose, Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Anne Milgram said Wednesday at a White House press briefing, calling the overdose epidemic in the US “a national crisis” that “knows no geographical boundaries, and it continues to get worse.”

The new federal data shows that overdose deaths from methamphetamine and other psychostimulants also increased significantly, up 48% in the year ending April 2021 compared to the year before. They accounted for more than a quarter of all overdose deaths in the latest 12-month period.