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USA drug overdose deaths top 109,000 in the past year

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 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released on Wednesday.

The figure is up 0.7% from 108,825 overdoses recorded in the 12-month period ending January 2022, according to U.S. data.

Percentage Change in Fatal Overdose Deaths from (Jan 2022 -Jan 2023)

Depicts percentage change in the estimated number of fatal overdose deaths from 12 months ended Jan 2022 to 12 months ended Jan 2023 by state 

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 the production of counterfeit fentanyl-laced pills. Illicit fentanyl has played an outsized role in the U.S. opioid crisis and drug overdoses.

The U.S.Α. 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.

U.S.A. drug overdose deaths rose 13.7% between January 2021 and January 2022 and by 31.4% 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 the abuse of prescription opioid painkillers and illegal drugs like heroin.

Fatal overdoses in 12 months ended Jan by Drug Class (2015-2023)

National estimates of Fatal overdoses by drug class in the U.S. at the end of January (2015-2023) 

Synthetic opioids, excl. methadone
Psychostimulants with abuse potential
Natural & semi-synthetic opioids

Stacey McKenna, senior fellow at the R Street Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based independent think tank, said the crackdown on fentanyl and other addictive drugs could be having the opposite of the intended effect.

"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.