Overdoses have killed a million Americans since the opioid epidemic began: NPR

Activists take part in a candlelight vigil in The Ellipse in Washington, DC, in August 2017, calling for an end to the country’s opioid addiction crisis. Alex Wong / Getty Images Hide caption

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Activists attend a candlelight vigil calling for an end to the country’s opioid addiction crisis in The Ellipse in Washington, DC, in August 2017.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

The number of deaths from drug overdoses exceeded the one million mark for the first time since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began collecting data on the problem more than two decades ago.

A study published Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the CDC, found that 932,364 people died from fatal overdoses in the United States from 1999 to 2020.

Separate preliminary data from the CDC shows an additional 100,000 drug deaths are expected in 2021.

In contrast to the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit older Americans hardest, researchers found that the number of drug deaths has increased the fastest among young and middle adults struggling with addiction problems.

“Among 35 to 44 year olds, the age group with the highest rates, deaths from drug overdose rose 33% from 2019 to 2020,” the report said. Men are also more susceptible than women, it said.

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The opioid epidemic began in the late 1990s when the pharmaceutical and health industries began to market and prescribe highly addictive pain relievers much more aggressively.

In recent years, most overdose deaths have been illegal fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, as well as cocaine and methamphetamines.

After public health officials made initial strides in reducing drug deaths, researchers found that overdoses rose again after 2013, with deaths rising sharply in the first year of the pandemic.

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Young people aged 15 to 24 saw the largest year-to-year increase in fatal overdoses, with deaths increasing 49% in 2020.

The Biden government has made efforts in recent months to slow the rate of drug deaths, in part by providing medical treatment to people with addictions.

Last month, the first safe drug consumption point in the United States opened in New York City, allowing people to consume street drugs under medical supervision.

Despite rising mortality rates, public health “harm reduction” strategies for addicts have met resistance and legal challenges across the country.


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