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US fentanyl-related deaths more than tripled over 5 years

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Packets of fentanyl mostly in powder form and methamphetamine, which U.S. Customs and Border Protection say they seized from a truck crossing into Arizona from Mexico, is on display during a news conference at the Port of Nogales, Arizona, U.S., January 31, 2019. Courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Handout via REUTERS

The rate of drug overdose deaths involving the synthetic opioid fentanyl more than tripled in the United States from 2016 through 2021, according to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released on Wednesday.

Fentanyl is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, and has increasingly been mixed with other illicit drugs often with lethal results.

The CDC report showed that the rate of drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl increased from 5.7 per 100,000 people in 2016 to 21.6 per 100,000 in 2021.

Fentanyl-related deaths rose by about 55% in 2019-2020, and 24.1% in 2020-2021, said Merianne Rose Spencer, one of the report’s authors.

In the United States, difficulties in getting treatment for substance use disorders during the COVID pandemic coincided with a jump in use of synthetic opioids like fentanyl, and opioid-related deaths soared to a record-high in 2020.

Between 2016 and 2021, the rate of drug overdose deaths involving methamphetamine increased more than fourfold, and cocaine-related overdose deaths more than doubled, the CDC said.

Oxycodone and heroin deaths fell marginally during the study period.

Roughly 2-in-100,000 died due to oxycodone-related overdose in 2016. That fell to 1.5-in-100,000 people in 2021.

Heroin related deaths decreased from 4.9 per 100,000 in 2016 to 2.9 in 2021, the report found.

The Biden administration has been pushing for action as U.S. drug-related overdose deaths surpassed 100,000 in 2021, according to government estimates.

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