The U.S. drug epidemic reached another terrible milestone Wednesday when the government announced that more than 100,000 people had died of overdoses between April 2020 and April 2021. It is the first time that drug-related deaths have reached six figures in any 12-month period.
The people who died — 275 every day — would fill the stadium where the University of Alabama plays football. Together, they equal the population of Roanoke, Va.
There are now more overdose deaths from the illegal synthetic opioid fentanyl than there were overdose deaths from all drugs in 2016.
Despite the efforts of governments, health-care providers, activists and others, the problem is getting worse — much worse. The new figures, which are provisional but rarely change much in final tallies, represent a 28.5 percent increase from the same period a year earlier. The financial, mental health, housing and other difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic are widely blamed for much of the increase.
President Biden said in a statement on the overdose death data that “as we continue to make strides to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot overlook this epidemic of loss, which has touched families and communities across the country.”
At a news conference Wednesday, other senior government officials acknowledged the increasing severity of the drug crisis, which has prompted the Biden administration to focus more effort on harm-reduction strategies. These include distributing the overdose antidote naloxone and fentanyl test strips to users, to keep them alive while the government expands prevention and treatment programs.
“It’s time to face the fact that this crisis seems to be getting worse,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “We need all hands on deck.”
Drug Enforcement Administration chief Anne Milgram also noted a rise in fentanyl seizures, which she said has reached 12,000 pounds in 2021.