For the first time, more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S. over the course of a year.
Drug overdoses killed over 100,000 Americans in the one-year period between April of 2020 and April of 2021, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Overdose deaths have been rising over the past two decades, but they’ve accelerated dramatically over the past few years, and NCHS data shows overdose deaths actually went up 28.9% from the year before.
The data shows many of these deaths involved fentanyl, a highly lethal opioid. It’s often mixed with other drugs, which is one reason why deaths from methamphetamine and cocaine are also on the rise, The Associated Press reports.
As an executive board member with the Prevention Alliance of Tennessee, Brian Sullivan calls it disturbing to see the state performing so poorly.
Tennessee had a 50.1% increase in the number of deaths over the same period, bringing the total to 3,581. Only four other states saw that much of a change from the previous year.
As now one of the top ten leading causes of death in the U.S., Sullivan hopes this is the wake-up call we all need.
"If you have a lot of people drowning in a river, at some point you have to go and find out why they’re drowning to rescue them and pull them out," Sullivan said.
Isolation during the pandemic is one thing Sullivan says we need to do a better job of addressing. He says countless people are searching for answers but forced to stay apart. Years ago Sullivan turned to pills as a way of coping with isolation and it nearly ended his life.
While most cases involve some form of addiction, Sullivan has called on legislators to fight the crisis on multiple fronts.
"We can’t focus all of it in one area. We can’t focus the funding all on treatment or all on prevention or all on harm reduction. It has to be all of these cohesively working together," Sullivan said.
Tennessee is expected to receive $52 million as part of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, with an emphasis on behavioral health. Sullivan says it will be a huge help in buying more of the life-saving naloxone which is used to reverse the effects of an overdose.
Sullivan also hopes more money creates avenues for help with mental health programs in the state.
"They don’t always give us the funding we need, but they will hear us on this because everyone knows someone who is affected," Sullivan said.
Metro Nashville is on pace for a record of their own of 700 people dead because of an overdose. In the last three quarters of this year ending in September, more than 540 people died from an overdose. If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction treatment, you can call Tennessee REDLINE 24/7 at 1-800-889-9789.
In a statement about the “tragic milestone,” President Biden said the U.S. cannot overlook the drug epidemic as it makes strides in defeating the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we grieve those we’ve lost and honor their memories, my administration is committed to doing everything in our power to address addiction and end the overdose epidemic,” wrote Biden. “Through the American Rescue Plan, we’ve delivered nearly $4 billion to strengthen and expand services for substance use disorder and mental health.”
Biden said his administration is working to make health coverage more accessible and affordable. He also said the White House is strengthening prevention, promoting harm reduction, expanding treatment, and supporting people in recovery, as well as reducing the supply of harmful substances in the U.S.
“To all those families who have mourned a loved one and to all those people who are facing addiction or are in recovery: you are in our hearts, and you are not alone. Together, we will turn the tide on this epidemic,” said Biden.
The NCHS provided the graphic below that illustrates the drug overdoses in the U.S.
Levi Ismail contributed to this story.