The United States had the highest number of annual overdose deaths, with more than 100,000.
Health authorities say it is linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and a supply of more dangerous drugs.
An estimated 100,000 Americans died of overdoses in one year, a never-before-seen milestone that health authorities say is linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and a more dangerous drug supply.
Overdose deaths, which have been on the rise for more than two decades, have accelerated in the past two years and, according to new data released Wednesday, have soared nearly 30% in the past year.
Experts believe the main factors are the increasing prevalence of the deadly fentanyl in the illicit drug supply and the COVID-19 pandemic, which left many drug users socially isolated and unable to receive treatment or other support.
The figure is "devastating," said Katherine Keyes, a drug abuse expert at Columbia University. "It is a magnitude of overdose deaths that we have not seen in this country.
Drug overdoses now exceed deaths from traffic accidents, firearms, and even flu and pneumonia. The total is close to that of diabetes, the seventh leading cause of death in the country.
From the latest available death certificate data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 100,300 Americans died from drug overdoses between May 2020 and April 2021. However, it is not an official count. It can take many months for drug-related death investigations to be final, so the agency made the estimate based on 98,000 reports it has received so far.
The CDC previously reported about 93,000 overdose deaths in 2020, the highest number on record in a calendar year. Robert Anderson, the CDC's chief of mortality statistics, said the 2021 count is likely to exceed 100,000.
The new data shows that many deaths are related to illicit fentanyl, a highly lethal opioid that five years ago surpassed heroin as the type of drug implicated in the highest number of overdose deaths. In addition, traffickers have mixed fentanyl with other drugs, which is why deaths from methamphetamine and cocaine are also increasing.
The CDC has not yet calculated the racial and ethnic dysfunction of the majority of the victims.
Estimates of deaths increased in all but four states: Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and South Dakota, compared to the same period last year. The states with the most significant increases were Vermont (70%), West Virginia (62%), and Kentucky (55%).
Minnesota saw an increase of about 39%, with estimated overdose deaths rising to 1,188 from May 2020 to April 2021, compared to 858 in the previous 12-month period.