In the fight against drugs, the United States has recorded a sad record. In 2021, the country has indeed counted some 107,000 deaths by overdose, an increase of 15% compared to the previous year, according to preliminary data published Wednesday by the American health authorities. This figure is dizzying: it means that a person dies in this way every 5 minutes in the United States.

The country had for the first time exceeded the symbolic mark of 100,000 overdose deaths over 12 months in April 2021. The 15% increase recorded for the year 2021 is however less than the 30% increase which had been recorded between 2019 and 2020. America’s opioid crisis has been aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has increased the isolation of some populations, experts say. The biggest increase in 2021 was seen in Alaska, where deaths increased by more than 75%.

Red alert on fentanyl

Of the deaths nationwide, more than 70,000 are linked to synthetic opiates like fentanyl, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is followed by stimulants such as methamphetamine (more than 30,000 deaths), cocaine (nearly 25,000), and natural or semi-synthetic opiates such as heroin (about 13,000). Several drugs can be involved in a death.

Fentanyl, highly addictive and cheap to manufacture, is increasingly being mixed by traffickers with other drugs, according to the US drug enforcement agency, the DEA. It is also added to counterfeit pills for sale on the Internet, for example painkillers.

Improving care while fighting trafficking

At the end of April, Joe Biden’s government announced an action plan to fight this crisis, focusing on two aspects: more care for dependent people, and the fight against drug trafficking. In particular, the US government wishes to emphasize so-called “harm reduction” practices, such as the distribution of naloxone (an antidote capable of resuscitating a person in the process of overdosing), tests to verify the presence or absence of of fentanyl, or the programs of exchange of needles used by clean.

It also wants to improve access to treatment (methadone, buprenorphine, etc.). “We are going to double the number of admissions for treatment for the populations most at risk of dying by overdose,” promised in April during a press conference Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the office in charge of the fight against drugs in the White House.


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