The drug overdose death rate in the U.S. increased 31% between 2019 and 2020, according to National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) data published on Dec. 30, 2021.
There were 91,799 drug overdose deaths (28.3 per 100,000 population) last year, which is up from 70,630 (21.6 per 100,000) in 2019. The rate has increased steadily over the past two decades, as only 16,849 (6.1 per 100,000) adults died of drug overdose in 1999.
Synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl and tramadol) were the driving factor behind the increase in recent years, including in 2020 when deaths resulting from heroin, methadone and natural / semisynthetic opioids (such as morphine, codeine, hydrocodone and oxycodone) remained relatively stable.
“The greatest percentage increases in rates occurred for drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (from 11.4 to 17.8) and psychostimulants with abuse potential (from 5.0 to 7.5),” the report said. “Increases were also seen in rates of drug overdose deaths involving natural and semisynthetic opioids, methadone, and cocaine. Of the drugs examined, only drug overdose deaths involving heroin had a lower rate in 2020 (4.1) than in 2019 (4.4).”
American Indian or Alaska Natives had the highest overdose rate in 2020 at 42.5 per 100,000 in population, followed by Blacks (35.8), whites (33.1), Hispanics (17.6), Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (13.7) and Asians (4.6).
All of these groups saw a rate increase between 2019 and 2020: up 12 points, 11, 6.9, 4.9, 4.2 and 1.3 per 100,000 population, respectively.
Adults ages 35-44 had the highest death rate, followed by those ages 45-54, 25-34, 55-64, 15-24 and 65-plus.
NCHS, founded in 1960 as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is tasked with offering “statistical information to guide actions and policies to improve the public health of the American people.”