US reaches record high of more than 96,000 drug overdose deaths in a 12-month period

Reported drug overdose deaths in the United States hit a new high of more than 96,000 in the 12-month period ending March 2021, according to data released this month by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

In that 12 months — a period when Covid-19 pandemic took hold in the United States and shut down normal daily routines — the US saw 96,779 reported drug overdose deaths, an increase of 29.6% from March 2020 to March 2021. The numbers released earlier this month are provisional data, as drug overdose deaths require “lengthy investigation” to be recorded, according to the CDC.

The CDC’s estimate for predicted deaths, which accounts for delayed reporting, was over 99,000 from March 2020 to March 2021.

The numbers released show an increase over the number of drug overdose deaths reported during the 12-month period ending in February, but deaths have risen slightly slower. There was a 29.7% rise in reported drug overdose deaths between February 2020 and February 2021.

Three states saw their number of overdose deaths decline from March 2020 to March 2021: New Hampshire, New Jersey and South Dakota. South Dakota’s reported overdose deaths declined by 16.3%, the highest of any state.

Vermont had the largest increase in overdose deaths of any state. Reported overdose deaths in Vermont rose 85.1% from March 2020 to March 2021. Vermont also saw the largest increase in the February dataset. In the breakdown of CDC overdose death data by drug class, opioids accounted for the highest number of overdose deaths, followed by synthetic opioids excluding methadone. Methadone continued to see the lowest number of overdose deaths.