While the whole country was distracted by coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions over the last two years, the U.S. was battling a much more deadly issue: drug overdoses.
This news isn't exactly surprising if you live in cities like San Francisco or New York City, where drug addiction is visible everywhere you walk. But overdosing has become a national issue that isn't reserved for major cities. In fact, the overdose epidemic has been getting worse and worse over the last two decades, leading up to the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in the U.S. last year.
Drug Overdoses Killed More Than 107,00 People in 2021
On Wednesday, the CDC released estimates showing that more than 107,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2021. This is 15% higher than 2020, and it's a new record that our country has never seen before.
One of the primary reasons we've seen such an uptick in these numbers is because fentanyl has made its way into the drug market and is more accessible than ever, and fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl alone killed more than 71,000 people in 2021, which is two-thirds of all the overdoses around the country. That number is equivalent to the number of total drug overdoses our country saw in 2018.
These numbers prove what many people have speculated: fentanyl is quickly turning into a casual drug that is used more nonchalantly, and people who have never even gotten close to using something like heroin are suddenly getting their hands on fentanyl, even if it's in counterfeit pain medication.
Medical anthropologist Dan Ciccarone, who works at the University of California, San Francisco, told BuzzFeed News that it's estimated that 80 million counterfeit pain pills containing fentanyl have made their way into the U.S.
“That’s a terrifying number given the potency of fentanyl,” Ciccarone said. “These are higher quality counterfeits now that you can’t tell from the real thing. Kids need to know this.”
Ciccarone also adds that the coronavirus pandemic has "just poured fuel on the fire of the overdose epidemic." Drug overdoses have even "cut U.S. life expectancy, even before the pandemic." He says we have "never seen anything like this before in history."
Methamphetamine is spreading east in the U.S., and there's an alarming increase of deaths from depressants like opioids. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, says we shouldn't expect things to slow down anytime soon.
“There will be a ceiling at some point, but I don’t know when that will be,” she told BuzzFeed News. “I think we are going to see [another] increase in the next year, because the dealers have a big incentive, actually, to sell these drugs. It’s a very unfortunate situation."
There are a lot of different responses to this news and various suggestions on how to handle this increase of overdoses. Some claim that the Biden administration's choice to ease up on the "War on Drugs" will help deter overdoses, but judging by what's happening in cities like San Francisco, it doesn't seem like the mass decriminalization of drugs will make much of a difference in drug use and overdose. In fact, in San Francisco, it's only made things worse.