More than 109,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in the 12-month period ending January 2023, a slight increase from the previous year, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released on Wednesday (June 14).
The figure is up 0.7 per cent from 107,764 overdoses recorded in the 12-month period ending January 2022, according to US data.
The increase comes despite a push by President Joe Biden’s administration for action to tackle drug addiction and overdoses.
The Biden administration in May imposed sanctions on 17 people and entities based in China and Mexico it accused of enabling production of counterfeit fentanyl-laced pills. Illicit fentanyl has played an outsized role in the US opioid crisis and drug overdoses.
The US drug overdose death toll crossed the 100,000-mark for the first time in 2021, as the COVID pandemic disrupted medical care and increased mental health problems. The effect was exacerbated by the widespread availability of lethal drugs such as fentanyl, which is 50 times stronger than heroin and increasingly mixed in with other illegal drugs.
During the pandemic, rates of mental illness, depression and anxiety went up dramatically, and people increasingly began to switch to substances, said Tom Britton, CEO of American Addiction Centers.
US drug overdose deaths rose 13.7 per cent between January 2021 and January 2022 and by 31.4 per cent in the prior 12 months at the height of the pandemic.
But the surge in overdose deaths began before the pandemic took hold due to abuse of prescription opioid painkillers and illegal drugs like heroin.
Stacey McKenna, senior fellow at the R Street Institute, a Washington-based independent think tank, said the crackdown on fentanyl and other addictive drugs could be having the opposite of the intended affect.
“There’s this iron law of prohibition that the harder you crack down on the supply, the more likely you are to get a more potent supply or a more dangerous supply,” McKenna said.
The CDC noted that the latest numbers represent an estimate to include underreporting and cases pending investigation.