The synthetic opioid fentanyl caused the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.
The age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths was highest for deaths involving fentanyl — 21.6 for every 100,000 people, the CDC reported. That was followed by methamphetamine (9.6 deaths for every 100,000 people), cocaine (7.9), heroin (2.9), and oxycodone (1.5). That continues a trend dating back to 2016, the report found.
The federal agency noted that overdose deaths from fentanyl, methamphetamine and cocaine all increased gradually from 2016 to 2021, with fentanyl leading an even sharper spike after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Overdose deaths from heroin and oxycodone decreased over the same period.
The report provides “a more in-depth analysis” of America’s growing drug addiction problem by analyzing the text of death certificates rather than medical diagnosis codes that often omit any mention of drug abuse, said CDC statistician Merianne Spencer.
“Males had higher rates of drug overdose deaths than females for all drugs analyzed in the study,” Ms. Spencer, the report’s author, told The Washington Times. “This study is also (to our knowledge) the first time we report rates of drug overdose deaths involving these specific drugs by five race/Hispanic origin categories.
According to the study, American Indians/Alaskan natives had the highest rate of drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl (33.1 per 100,000) and methamphetamine (27.4) of any racial or ethnic group.
The study also found fentanyl overdose death rates were highest in regions along the East Coast, ranging from 23.7 to 32.2 for every 100,000 people. Drug overdose deaths along the West Coast and in the Midwest more often involved both fentanyl and methamphetamine, with much lower fentanyl death rates ranging from 10.7 to 15.9 per 100,000 people.
According to the CDC report, fentanyl has been the leading cause of overdose deaths since at least 2016, and the gap between it and other drugs has widened since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020.
Overdose deaths from fentanyl grew annually from 18,499 in 2016 (a rate of 5.7 deaths for every 100,000 people) to 69,943 in 2021 (a rate of 21.6 deaths per 100,000 people).
While annual overdose deaths from methamphetamine and cocaine also rose more sharply from 2019 to 2020 than in previous years, fentanyl outpaced those increases, the report found.