TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — While COVID-19 was the third largest cause of death in 2021, and firearm homicides rose over the same year, illicit substances also increased significantly as a cause of death. Based on the data available, the number of drug overdose deaths was at an all-time high in 2021.
Provisional data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the number of drug overdose deaths, mostly due to fentanyl and methamphetamine, was up 12%-15% in 2021.
Despite incomplete data, the CDC and the National Institute of Health have noted a marked increase in drug overdoses and drug use, generally. The number of Americans using drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine have only increased.
NIH reports the number of overdose deaths that involved methamphetamine have been on the rise for years, tripling from 2015 to 2019. The Institute said the country is experiencing an overdose crisis.
“We are in the midst of an overdose crisis in the United States, and this tragic trajectory goes far beyond an opioid epidemic. In addition to heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine are becoming more dangerous due to contamination with highly potent fentanyl, and increases in higher risk use patterns such as multiple substance use and regular use,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D.
Based on a study authored by Volkow and others, the number of overdose deaths grew higher in 2020.
The NIH reported about 93,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2020. “This increase has largely been driven by rising overdoses involving synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl.” Fatal overdoses involving psychostimulants have also risen. NIH said the “steep” increases were “particularly methamphetamine.”
Most overdose deaths were in adults 18 to 64-years-old.
In 2021, 7,888 people reportedly died of a drug overdose. That count was 4.23% higher than the year before, with 7,568 dead from drug overdoses in 2020. However, the CDC data is “underreported” and incomplete. The agency predicted the actual total overdose deaths in Florida in 2021 was 8,171.
“Drug overdose deaths are often initially reported with no cause of death (pending investigation), because they require lengthy investigation, including toxicology testing,” the CDC said. “Predicted provisional counts represent estimates of the number of deaths adjusted for incomplete reporting.”
Data from the CDC predicts the total across the U.S. for 2021 was 107,622 overdose deaths, with 103,598 already reported. The agency reports 0.4% of reports are “pending investigation,” but the data is incomplete due to underreporting.
However, additional study of overdose and drug use-related deaths by the University of California found overdose mortality had increased 94% from 2019 to 2020, and another 20% in 2021.
“Beginning in 2020, adolescents experienced a greater relative increase in overdose mortality than the overall population,” the UCLA study reported.
It said the number of adolescent deaths had increased particularly due to use of fentanyl.
“In 2021, fentanyls were identified in 77.14% of adolescent overdose deaths, compared with 13.26% for benzodiazepines, 9.77% for methamphetamine, 7.33% for cocaine, 5.76% for prescription opioids, and 2.27% for heroin,” the UCLA study found.
Increases in adolescent drug overdoses ramped up from 2019 to 2020 and 2021, particularly as compared to the deaths reported in the decade before.
“There were 518 deaths among adolescents (2.40 per 100 000 population) in 2010, with rates remaining stable through 2019 with 492 deaths (2.36 per 100 000),” according to UCLA’s study. “Deaths increased to 954 (4.57 per 100 000) in 2020 and to 1146 (5.49 per 100 000) in 2021.”
As the CDC data is provisional, it is unclear whether or not their predicted total will end up being correct, higher, or lower, than the current reported total.