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Fentanyl death rate grows 279% from 2016 to 2021


Opioid crisis continues with a new drug mixture deemed an ‘emerging threat’ for the nation.

signs and symbols opioid abuse © tom - stock.adobe.com

© tom - stock.adobe.com

The fentanyl death rate skyrocketed 279% from 2016 to 2021, with additional rises in drug overdose death rates involving methamphetamine and cocaine.

The figures were the latest in a report this week from the National Center for Health Statistics in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The figures showed a 40.8% decrease in deaths by heroin overdose, while deaths by oxycodone overdose declined 21%, maybe the only good news in the numbers.

Among the findings:

  • For fentanyl, overdose deaths blew up 279% from 5.7 per 100,000 people in 2016 to 21.6 per 100,000 people in 2021.
  • Fentanyl and methamphetamine were involved in the highest drug overdose death rates for those aged 25 to 34 years and 35 to 44 years.
  • After fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine were involved in the highest drug overdose death rates for those aged 45 to 54 years and 55 to 64 years.

CDC notes fentanyl is a synthetic opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Pharmaceutical fentanyl is prescribed by physicians to treat severe pain, especially after surgery and for advanced-stage cancer.

Illicitly manufactured fentanyl that has a heroin-like effect for users. The powdered form looks like other drugs and has no distinctive taste or smell. It is commonly mixed with heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, with fentanyl-laced drugs “extremely dangerous” for users, according to CDC.

DEA involved

Just two milligrams of fentanyl can be a potentially lethal dose, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
“Fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered,” said a statement by DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “Fentanyl is everywhere. From large metropolitan areas to rural America, no community is safe from this poison.

“We must take every opportunity to spread the word to prevent fentanyl-related overdose death and poisonings from claiming scores of American lives every day,” Milgram said.

National Fentanyl Awareness Day is scheduled for May 9 to increase awareness of the drug. For people under age 50, fentanyl has surpassed heart disease, cancer, homicide, suicide, and other accidents as cause of death, according to DEA.

Adding ‘tranq’

Last month, the White House declared another drug mixture as an emerging threat to the United States.

Investigators have found fentanyl mixed with xylazine, a nonpioid animal tranquilizer known as “tranq” or “tranq dope,” spreading around the nation. Xylazine-positive overdose deaths increased by 1,127% in the South, 750% in the West, more than 500% in the Midwest, and more than 100% in the Northeast, from 2020 to 2021.

“As a physician, I am deeply troubled about the devastating impact of the fentanyl-xylazine combination, and as President Biden’s drug policy advisor, I am immensely concerned about what this threat means for the Nation,” said a statement from Rahul Gupta, MD, MPH, MBA, FACP. Gupta is the first physicians to served as director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“That’s why the Biden-Harris Administration is using this designation authority for the first time since it passed Congress in 2018,” Gupta’s statement said. “By declaring xylazine combined with fentanyl as an emerging threat, we are being proactive in our approach to save lives and creating new tools for public health and public safety officials and communities across the Nation. To parents, loved ones, community leaders, and those affected by xylazine use: I want you to know that help is on the way.”

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