Josh Chandler | May 25, 2022

Drug Overdose Deaths Top 100,000 for the Second Year in a Row

Overdose Deaths in 2021

Drug overdose deaths increased and exceeded 100,000 across the U.S. in 2020 and 2021. According to medical news published in the New York Times, overdose deaths climbed to over 108,000 in 2021, an increase of about 15% over already high death counts in 2020. Deaths involving synthetic opioids are often pointed to as a significant issue, and they definitely are a big part of the vital statistics. Still, they are only a portion of the story. Drug addiction and overdose deaths also hit some demographics harder than others, with Alaska natives and American Indians being two groups with higher rates. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, which tracks health statistics on all drug-related issues, stated that drug overdose deaths had increased every year since 1970, except for 2018. 

Fentanyl, a type of synthetic opioid, and methamphetamine, a stimulant commonly referred to as “crystal meth” or just “meth,” are two substances causing the rise in drug overdose death rates. Opioid overdose rates have been a major problem in the United States for the last couple of decades. Drug problems are no longer considered an issue restricted to major urban areas as much, with smaller municipalities also plagued by the opioid crisis. Crystal meth is a street drug that can be made at home or even in mobile labs, as popular culture via T.V. shows and movies have publicized. National and state or local municipalities have not been able to grasp the problem. The introduction of new variations of substances to the illegal drug market has only increased the research topics they need to explore. 

Simply put, drug abuse leads to people dying from drug overdoses. There are no good categories of illegal drugs nor acceptable amounts of addictive substances to take. All can negatively affect a person’s life, addiction, overdose, and death. Prescription opioids, which sound safe based on their source, can be just as problematic as street drugs like cocaine, heroin, or meth when abused. Prescription opioids are used in three common ways, which has led to the opioid crisis. A person prescribed an opioid for pain management may decide they need more of the medication they have been administered because it no longer has the same effect. This is a type of self-medication, and the tolerance to a substance that is occurring can be an early sign of addiction. That’s why you should never change the dose of any prescribed medication without consulting your doctor. The second way is when a person “borrows” or uses someone else’s prescription opioid medication, even for a legitimate reason. You should never take prescription medication that is not prescribed to you. Doctors look at many factors before prescribing any medication, and taking someone else’s can lead to deaths involving synthetic opioids. The third way is quite simple: individuals purchase prescription opioids on the street for recreational use.

All of these types of abuse contributed to overdose deaths in 2021. Death counts involving synthetic opioids, cocaine, and crystal meth are all part of the issue, with several other substance categories in the mix. 

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What Is Causing Overdose Deaths to Soar?

The one underlying issue that is actually affecting drug overdoses and death counts across several categories of substances is Fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is used to treat severe pain. It is very powerful, and it is also highly addictive. Those factors alone lead to people dying from drug overdoses involving prescription opioids. The next issue involving Fentanyl is that it can come in powder form, which can be mixed with other drugs very easily. To get a more robust “cut,” illegal drug producers mix Fentanyl with heroin. Due to several factors, like drug producers not being aware of how powerful the combination will be and drug users not being aware of the potency of what they are using, death counts due to drug overdose have escalated. 

Fentanyl is also being mixed with both meth and cocaine. This mixture of a synthetic opioid and a stimulant is called a “speedball” or a “goofball” and can have deadly effects for the same potency reasons. As people fighting drug addiction search for new highs, the use of these combinations has been on the rise and has undoubtedly contributed to the drug overdose death rate. The only silver lining that experts see in the drug overdose rates is that the 15% increase from 2020 to 2021 was not as significant as the one from 2019 to 2020, which was 30%. Only time will tell if the devastating trend will continue, but federal and state governments are on high alert and looking for ways to be proactive about the number of people dying from drug overdoses.

How to Save the Life of Someone Who Is Overdosing

It’s hard to say overdose prevention is everyone’s responsibility the same way we might talk about motor vehicle safety as we travel on roads around the country. Still, some things can be done to help someone who is overdosing. Even if you’re not a drug user yourself, you may be around people, and it’s good to be prepared. People can overdose when consuming commonly used drugs like alcohol, MDMA, meth, cocaine, other stimulants, heroin, prescription opioids, and other opiates and cannabis. The first step in being able to save lives is knowing what to look for when someone may be overdosing, and it varies depending on the substance. Here are a few examples of what to look for if a drug overdose is about to happen:


Cold, clammy skin and an inability to stay conscious. In the past, people have tried using coffee, cold showers, and letting someone “sleep it off,” but these strategies don’t work and sometimes make things worse.


Heat stroke is not an actual overdose, but it often occurs, especially when MDMA is taken as a party drug or at concerts or other events during the summer and outdoors. Be on the lookout for someone who feels hot but isn’t sweating and passes out.

Cocaine, meth, and other stimulants 

Rapid heart rate and seizures are danger signs. The overdose risk increases with the number of stimulants taken.

Heroin, prescription opioids, and other opiates 

Be on the lookout for extremely slow breathing, gagging noises, and a bluish (on paler skin) or ashy (on darker skin) tone. 

Marijuana or Cannabis in various forms 

You can’t die from traditional cannabis use, but some people ingest more than intended with oils and edibles and experience uncomfortable highs that sometimes have serious physical effects. If someone is experiencing difficulty breathing or the results last more than two hours, medical assistance may be needed.

Another step to save lives and be proactive in preventing overdose death is to administer Narcan or Naloxone if it is readily available. If you ever see anyone go into distress for any reason, a suspected drug overdose or otherwise, call 911 immediately. Describe the symptoms in as much detail as possible, and don’t keep any drug use to yourself. The 911 operator may be able to give you instructions, and it will provide the paramedics who arrive with advanced knowledge of what they need to do. 

See what percentage of addicts stay clean after rehab in our blog below:

What Percentage of Addicts Stay Clean After Rehab?

Fentanyl Test Strips for Overdose Prevention

One tactic the government is taking to save lives and increase overdose prevention is harm reduction, which has had mixed reviews from the public but is seen as a good measure by drug abuse and addiction specialists. Harm reduction includes steps like providing Fentanyl test strips and offering needle exchanges for drug abusers and addicts to lower the overdose death rate. Testing for Fentanyl can be a significant risk reducer, and some see anything that can reduce the overdose death rate as a step in the right direction. Whether due to prescription opioids or other drug overdoses, action is definitely needed to lower death rates and get things on a more positive course. Even one overdose death is devastating to the people around the individual, and over 100,000 is a number that certainly needs to be addressed. The COVID pandemic is another reason why overdose deaths have increased during recent years, and that, among other research topics, is being looked into by experts. 

Going to Drug Rehab to Prevent a Fatal Overdose

Regardless of the substance, anyone struggling with drug abuse or addiction who thinks they may binge should look into drug rehab to prevent an overdose. This can be a return to outpatient therapy, checking into a residential treatment program, or contacting a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. If a person has been to alcohol or drug rehab before, going again can reinforce the skills they have learned in the past. If they have never been in a drug treatment program in the past, this could be the perfect time to start down a new path. 

Call us at (800) 426-1818 today for further information on health statistics and drug treatment programs. 

Fentanyl Addiction,Overdose,Prescription Drug Addiction,
Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.

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