Aside from the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States is also dealing with another national health crisis, one that has been going on for years and is only getting worse. The opioid crisis.
On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary data showing that U.S. drug overdose deaths climbed to 107,622 in 2021, surpassing 100,000 for the first time in a calendar year. Compared to 2019, when overdose deaths were already historically high, drug fatalities surged by nearly 50 percent, exacerbating what had already been the worst drug crisis in U.S. history. "It is unacceptable that we are losing a life to overdose every five minutes around the clock," Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), said in a statement, promising swift action "to reduce overdoses and save lives."
The pandemic has been identified as a major contributor to the latest surge in overdose deaths. However, experts agree that it only exacerbated a crisis that existed long before COVID-19. While the unique circumstances of the past two years have undoubtedly disrupted outreach and treatment programs while increasing levels of social isolation, the main problem lies in the availability and potency of synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and, due to its low price, it is often used to lace other drugs, which makes it especially dangerous. According to the CDC’s latest data, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl were involved in two out of three overdose deaths last year.