While Americans were paralyzed by the global pandemic, a second killer was quietly taking lives: drug overdose. In the 12-month period ending March 2021, overdose rates in the United States hit an all-time record. As a person in recovery from opioid addiction who works with some of our most vulnerable at risk of an overdose, I constantly ask myself: how did we get to this point? Over the past year, I’ve buried a half dozen people close to me who died a preventable death. I didn’t need to see the headlines to know that we’re hitting another grim milestone.

Even people without a history of addiction are now at risk. The DEA recently warned of a rise in overdose deaths related to fentanyl-laced fake prescription drugs. Fentanyl is becoming a near-universal additive in many illicit substances, making test kits and overdose-reversing medications like naloxone as necessary as seatbelts in a car.

Without these safeguards, people die. New data shows that 96,779 people lost their lives to overdoses between March 2020 and March 2021. The CDC projects that the death toll increased 29.6% — though that is an estimate until more data arrives. Confirming drug overdose as the cause of death requires a “lengthy investigation” to be recorded, so the real number could surpass 100,000 deaths.

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