(The Center Square) – America has seen a spike in overdose deaths since the pandemic, when drug overdose deaths rose more than 14% from 2020 to 2021.
The biggest increase, perhaps surprisingly, came from adults aged 65 and over, but rates for adults 35-44 remain highest. As synthetic opioids like fentanyl continue to displace heroin, overdose deaths have increased.
The data, released by the CDC, also show the rate of overdose deaths increased slightly faster for women than for men, though the rate for men remains more than twice as high as for women.
“Drug overdose deaths have risen fivefold over the past 2 decades,” the CDC noted. “In 2021, 106,699 deaths occurred.”
By age, overdose death rates are highest for adults 35-44 at 62 deaths per 100,000 people, followed by adults 45-54 at 54 per 100,000 and then adults 25-34 at 53 per 100,000.
The data offer few silver linings, however.
“Drug overdose death rates were higher in 2021 than in 2020 for all age groups 25 and over,” the CDC noted.
As synthetic opioids have grown in their use, overdose deaths have followed — so much that heroin overdose death rates have decreased in recent years. As recently as 2015, synthetic opioids were responsible for less than five overdose deaths per 100,000 people. By 2021, they’ve been responsible for more than 20 deaths per 100,000.
In Pennsylvania, overdose death rates have increased, but not as quickly as in other states. The state is third nationally in overdose deaths, as The Center Square previously reported, with almost 5,200 deaths in 2020, and almost 5,400 deaths in 2021. Pennsylvania Attorney General and Governor-elect Josh Shapiro has called opioids “Pennsylvania’s #1 public health and public safety crisis.”
The state government estimates that almost 300,000 people in 2020 have a drug use disorder. To help reduce the number of deaths, the Wolf administration has encouraged people to carry naloxone, an anti-overdose drug, and made it easier for the public and first responders alike to obtain it.
Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.