US drug overdoses topped 100,000 for first time, data shows

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Family and friends of people who died after being poisoned by pills containing fentanyl carry signs as they protest near the Snap, Inc. headquarters, makers of the Snapchat social media application, on June 4, 2021 in Santa Monica, California (AFP/Patrick T. FALLON)

More than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses in the United States during the 12 months ending April 2021, a leap of 28.5 percent on the year before, driven largely by opioids, data showed Wednesday.

"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," President Joe Biden said in a statement.

Overall, opioids accounted for 75,673 of the 100,306 fatalities, with the main culprits being synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl.

Covid-19 killed around 508,000 people in the same time frame, according to Our World in Data.

Deaths from psychostimulants like methamphetamine, as well as from natural and semi-synthetic opioids, such as prescription pain medication, and cocaine were all up.

Experts say people with substance use disorders were hit particularly hard by disruptions to daily life brought about by the pandemic.

At the same time, the US Drug Enforcement Administration has warned Americans about prescription pills available online that are made to look like real Oxycontin, Vicodin, Xanax or Adderall, but which are laced with lethal doses of fentanyl and methamphetamine.

"My Administration is committed to doing everything in our power to address addiction and end the overdose epidemic," Biden added in his statement.

"Through the American Rescue Plan, we've delivered nearly $4 billion to strengthen and expand services for substance use disorder and mental health."

In 2019, the latest year for which national data was available, heart disease was the leading cause of death, with some 660,000 fatalities, followed by cancer, with around 600,000 deaths, and unintentional injuries, at 175,000.

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