The United States registered a record of more than 100,000 overdose deaths in a year during the pandemic, a figure that alarmed health authorities, who speak of an unprecedented “crisis” linked mainly to the illegal sales of fentanyl, a potent opiate.
Between April 2020 and April 2021, the country registered 100,306 fatal overdoses, an increase of 28.5% compared to the same period of the previous year (78,056 deaths), according to provisional figures released this Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (CDC).
It is the first time that the symbolic barrier of 100,000 deaths has been surpassed. This implies one death every five minutes.
“My administration is committed to doing everything in our power to treat addiction and end the overdose epidemic,” President Joe Biden reacted in a statement.
“As we continue to make progress to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot ignore this epidemic of deaths, which has affected families and communities across the country,” he added.
While the Secretary of Health, Xavier Becerra, told reporters that “it is time to face the fact that this crisis seems to be getting worse.”
“We need to put all our hands to work,” he said.
The pandemic has accelerated a phenomenon that was already growing, by increasing the isolation of certain populations, according to experts.
“These overdoses are mainly caused by synthetic opiates, especially illegally manufactured fentanyl,” Deb Houry of the CDC told a news conference.
Although overdoses linked to methamphetamine, an equally highly addictive stimulant, or cocaine, also increased.
“Drug traffickers and their networks flood our neighborhoods with fentanyl and methamphetamine in the form of fake pills,” warned Anne Milgram, head of the US drug agency (DEA).
The Mexican cartels, which use chemicals imported from China, make consumers believe that they are buying approved drugs online and that they can be obtained under prescription, when in fact they are very dangerous counterfeit products, he explained.
This year the DEA seized “more than 14 million counterfeit pills, a number that continues to grow dramatically every year,” he said. “These deadly drugs are found in every state” in the United States.
The US government especially announced that it plans to improve prevention, as well as access to naloxone, an antidote capable of countering an overdose.
The federal government has said that it will encourage states to make naloxone available, for example, in prisons or schools, or fully covered by health insurance.
“I think no one should die of an overdose just because of a lack of access to naloxone,” said Rahul Gupta, director of the government office in charge of the national drug strategy.
“But, unfortunately, that currently happens all over the country,” he said.