The US Just Had Its Deadliest Year for Overdose Deaths
According to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, close to 71,000 people died of overdoses in the U.S. in 2019, a number that the agency said is likely an undercount. More than 36,000 of those deaths stem from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, the CDC report said.
The increase in 2019 is a reversal from 2018, which saw overdose deaths decrease for the first time in decades, with about 68,000 in total.
Bryce Pardo, an associate policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit that studies the overdose crisis, said there may have been a decrease in deaths in 2018 because carfentanil exited several U.S. markets. It’s possible that some dealers stopped selling carfentanil, a synthetic opioid more potent than fentanyl, due to too many people dying, or that Chinese manufacturers decided it was too risky to produce, said Pardo. However, he said the drug re-emerged in 2019 in places like Vancouver, B.C. and Ohio.
Pardo said there are some markets that have completely transitioned to fentanyl markets, where powder heroin is no longer available. Vancouver drug activists who recently handed out free samples of cocaine and opium that had been tested for fentanyl said there is no clean heroin available in the city.
“The thing about this problem is it’s more like a poisoning crisis,” Pardo said. “Drug users, at least at first, aren’t demanding fentanyl. They’re looking for heroin, they’re looking for some type of diverted prescription medication.”
He said in some cases dealers are adding fentanyl to the heroin supply because it’s cheaper and more potent and it’s easy to get online.