More than 100,000 people in the U.S. died of a drug overdose during the first year of the pandemic, a nearly 29% increase from the same time period in 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday. The vast majority of those deaths were due to opioids, particularly synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
“An American dying every five minutes — that’s game-changing,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said at a media briefing.The new data has prompted concern among officials about the worsening overdose epidemic.
In response to the findings, the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services and other government health officials outlined new initiatives aimed at combating the overdose epidemic, including expanding access to naloxone — a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses, allowing federal dollars to be used to purchase fentanyl test strips to detect the presence of fentanyl in any drug batch and increasing funding toward addiction prevention efforts.
The CDC previously warned that the rate of overdose deaths accelerated during the pandemic — driven largely by synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the National Institutes of Health.
It can also be manufactured to look like real prescription pills and be illegally imported and sold throughout the U.S., contributing to this crisis.