Drug overdose deaths in the United States surpassed 107,000 last year, another record

Drug policy experts say the administration must apply the same urgency to stop opioid deaths that led to its response to Covid-19.

“We have to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time,” said Jerome Adams, former US surgeon general and member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Opioid Crisis Task Force. “Covid will not go away”.

Overdose deaths from all drugs increased 15% from 2020, when 93,655 people are estimated to have died.

Deaths from opioids rose from 70,029 in 2020 to 80,816 in 2021, while drug-related deaths also increased over the year, including synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, psychostimulants and cocaine.

“The pandemic has really disrupted the lives of so many people, especially those already living on the fringes,” said Maritza Perez, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “People have lost their jobs, they have been isolated. These are all factors that increase problem drug use ”.

This has hit the Black, Native American and Hispanic communities the hardest. Overdose death rates among blacks and Native Americans increased 81% between 2019 and 2021, according to to the April report on the crisis of the Bipartisan Policy Center and 65% among Hispanics. By comparison, death rates among white Americans increased by 40% over the same period.

One positive aspect found in the provisional data: the death toll is slowing significantly; between 2019 and 2020, deaths increased by 30%, compared to 15% last year.

Last month, the Biden administration launched a new one National drug control strategyfocused on drug addiction treatment and stepping up law enforcement to stop drug trafficking in the country.

The national drug strategy includes several harm reduction measures, such as improving access to the life-saving drug in the event of an overdose, naloxone, and drug test strips that help consumers identify whether potent opioids are present in drugs. synthetics to reduce the risk of overdose. It seeks to ensure that more people can access treatment programs and to strengthen the collection of data on drug use, treatment and recovery.

“It is unacceptable that we lose a life from overdose every five minutes around the clock,” said Rahul Gupta, director of the National Drug Control Policy, in a statement to POLITICO.

The strategy also focuses on stopping the illicit flow of drugs such as synthetic opioids into the United States by targeting drug trafficking from both Mexico and China, something Republicans have been hammering at President Joe Biden about regarding his policies of immigration and border.

Drug policy experts say the administration has placed a welcome new focus on reducing overdose deaths, particularly through harm reduction. But they say both more urgency and more resources are needed to have a real impact.

“As we begin to see Covid-19 become more endemic, the opioid epidemic has worsened,” said Marla Kushner, president of the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine.

Kushner said he appreciated the administration’s clear efforts to include groups like his in meetings on how best to deal with the crisis. But, he said, “We need more meetings, more money, more action, more supplies, more everything.”

Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, called the latest death toll a “devastating milestone” in a statement to POLITICIAN. “To compound the tragedy,” she added, “we have underutilized treatments that could help many people. We need to meet people where they are to prevent overdoses, reduce harm and connect people to proven treatments to reduce drug use. “

Improving data collection and reporting is another key adjustment that needs to be made in the administration’s approach to the crisis, said Adams of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Some of the data released Wednesday by the CDC are now over a year old, he points out. “You have been out for an extra year. There is no way to save those lives, “she said.

He said the administration should replicate the real-time dashboards they’ve created for Covid-19 cases, opioid epidemic deaths and hospitalizations, so government officials, doctors and community members can see what’s happening in the country.

“If you’re in a community where overdose is on the rise, maybe go get some naloxone. Maybe you have a conversation with your kids about how to protect yourself, “she said.” Right now we’re driving down the road looking at the rearview mirror. “