Drug-overdose deaths in 2021 topped 100,000 for the first time in a calendar year, federal data showed, a record high fueled by the spread of illicit forms of fentanyl throughout the country.
More than 107,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses last year, preliminary Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released Wednesday showed, roughly a 15% increase from 2020. The proliferation of the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl has been compounded by the destabilizing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on users and people in recovery, according to health authorities and treatment providers.
The U.S. has recorded more than one million overdose deaths since 2000, and more than half of those came in the past seven years.
The agency has counted about 103,600 overdoses for 2021 but believes the number is several thousand higher due to suspected overdoses that haven’t yet been confirmed by local death investigators, Dr. Anderson said.
At the Medical University of South Carolina, nearly all fully vaccinated Covid-19 patients in the ICU have weak immune systems from prior health problems, said Andrew Goodwin, the section chief of critical care. The rest are elderly, which can also compromise the body’s defense against illness.
Truveta Inc., a firm that aggregates hospitals’ medical data for research, found among 1.7 million fully vaccinated people that those with diabetes, chronic lung disease and chronic kidney disease were about twice as likely to be hospitalized for breakthrough cases as vaccinated people without these conditions.
The likelihood of having a breakthrough infection was still low, though confirmed infections were more common for people with these illnesses. About 1.5% of roughly 110,000 people with chronic kidney disease had one, for example. But Truveta found about a quarter of breakthrough patients with chronic kidney disease wound up hospitalized. The likelihood of hospitalizations for people with breakthrough cases but without underlying health problems was about 7.5%.
Breakthrough deaths are hitting older people the hardest, amplifying a well-worn pandemic pattern. Exclusive data the Journal reviewed from the Epic Health Research Network, which analyzes data from the medical-record software company Epic Systems Corp., shows about 80% of breakthrough deaths among the vaccinated are in people ages 65 and older. The data included records for 19.5 million fully vaccinated people. Among all Covid-19 deaths this year, that age group represents closer to 69%, according to the CDC.
The U.S. on Monday crossed the threshold of 675,000 reported Covid-19 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, which tracks data from state health authorities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the influenza pandemic killed about that many people in the U.S. a century ago, in 1918 and 1919. Both figures are likely undercounts, epidemiologists and historians say.
There are several differences between the current pandemic and the one that claimed nearly as many lives more than 100 years ago. The U.S. at that time was roughly one-third its current size, so the flu pandemic took a proportionately bigger toll on the population. That pandemic had a devastating effect on young people, including small children and young-to-middle-aged adults, while Covid-19 has hit older people hardest, according to health officials.
Ohio in February announced more than 4,000 additional deaths while reconciling its data, and Indiana added about 1,500. Smaller revisions have also recently come from Virginia, Minnesota and Rhode Island. On Thursday, authorities in West Virginia said medical providers hadn’t properly reported 168 deaths to the state’s public-health department.
“Nobody likes surprises, and nobody likes data that’s wrong because that’s what drives decisions,” said Ayne Amjad, West Virginia’s state health officer.
Like many countries, the U.S. is trying to track pandemic events nearly as they happen, and a big part of this effort has required speeding up how deaths are reported.
Description: Estimating global excess mortality, and comparing against official COVID death counts. As of date of publication, official COVID deaths globally were about 2 million (excluding: China and India, and many other large countries), while excess deaths for 2020 were about 2.8 million.
Authors: Paul Overberg, Jon Kamp and Daniel Michaels