It has been five years since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid epidemic a "public health emergency," and the yearly number of overdose deaths has only continued to rise since then. According to the provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were an estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths in the country in 2021, marking another year that broke the grim record of the previous one.
Of those deaths, 71,238 were attributed in part or entirely to synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl—66.2% of overdose deaths. The rate of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids was more than 18 times higher in 2020 than 2013. There are plenty of sensationalized stories in the media about fentanyl, but these numbers are staggering.
Fifty to 100 times stronger than natural and semisynthetic opioids like heroin, morphine and oxycodone, fentanyl is particularly dangerous because it is often disguised as, or mixed into, other drugs. That means users of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other prescription opioids may be ingesting something much more potent without knowing it. But overdose deaths are preventable. Get the facts about fentanyl, and how you can identify and stop an overdose.