President Joe Biden on Wednesday lamented new data showing American drug overdose deaths topped 100,000 annually for the first time, saying that “we cannot overlook this epidemic of loss, which has touched families and communities across the country.”
More than 100,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States during the 12-month period ending April 2021, according to provisional data published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a new record high, with overdose deaths jumping 28.5% from the same period one year earlier.
Experts have told CNN that the Covid-19 pandemic and the rise in use of fentanyl have both been key contributors to the rising overdose death toll.
In a statement discussing his administration’s efforts to combat rising overdose deaths, Biden cited $4 billion in funding from the Covid-19 relief package. Provisions in the package, known as the American Rescue Plan, are aimed at expanding services for substance use disorder and mental health. The President said his administration is also “working to make health coverage more accessible and affordable for all Americans, so that more people who need care can get it.”
“We are strengthening prevention, promoting harm reduction, expanding treatment, and supporting people in recovery, as well as reducing the supply of harmful substances in our communities. And we won’t let up,” Biden continued. “To all those families who have mourned a loved one and to all those people who are facing addiction or are in recovery: you are in our hearts, and you are not alone. Together, we will turn the tide on this epidemic.”
Opioids continue to be the driving cause of drug overdose deaths, with nearly two thirds of all drug overdose deaths being caused by synthetic opioids — primarily fentanyl. In addition, the new data shows that overdose deaths from methamphetamine and other psychostimulants also increased significantly, up 48% in the year ending April 2021 compared to the year before.
In a call with reporters Wednesday morning, Biden administration officials reiterated that these overdoses are being driven largely by fentanyl and methamphetamine, and that those drugs are being mass produced by Mexican drug cartels sourcing drug-making chemicals from China.
Anne Milgram, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said fentanyl seizures by her agency have reached a record high.
“The amount of illegal fentanyl in our country has risen to an unprecedented level. This year alone, DEA has seen enough fentanyl to provide every member of the United States population with a lethal dose and we are still seizing more fentanyl each and every day,” she continued.
The White House Office of Drug Control Policy on Wednesday also announced a new model law for states aimed to be a template for expanding access to naloxone — an opioid overdose reversal drug.
And last month, the US Department of Health and Human Services released an overview of the Biden administration’s plan to combat drug overdoses. It includes measures aimed at addressing opioid prescription practices and removing barriers to treatments, as well as recovery support and federal support for harm reduction strategies.
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