Like its 80-year-old predecessor, 2021 is a year that will “live in infamy” for many reasons, not the least of which is the escalation of addiction and substance use disorder that we saw across the country. As we look at some of the main 2021 addiction statistics and events, we see that more of our loved ones, friends, neighbors, and colleagues are dying of overdose and that fentanyl is more pervasive than ever in street drugs pouring into the US.
It wasn’t all bad news, however. We also learned that federal officials are taking harm reduction more seriously and that more lifesaving measures are being taken to curb fatal overdose in the future while active substance users make their way to treatment.
1. 100,000 and Growing: Overdose Deaths Reach Tragic Milestone
Perhaps the most tragic and alarming addiction statistic of 2021 came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This past November, the agency announced an estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States during the 12-month period ending in April 2021, an increase of 28.5 percent from the 78,056 deaths during the same period the year before.
2. Fentanyl Is Everywhere
One of the main drivers of the spike in overdose deaths is the rapid spread of fentanyl in virtually every type of street drug. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported this past September that international and domestic criminal drug networks are flooding the United States with lethal counterfeit pills that are cut with fentanyl. The powerful synthetic opioid is also finding its way into cocaine and meth.
3. …And Speaking of Meth
While heroin and opioids have understandably dominated the addiction care conversation, we learned that meth-related overdoses have increased considerably in recent years. The National Institutes of Health reported this past September that overdose deaths involving methamphetamine nearly tripled from 2015 to 2019 among people ages 18-64 in the United States.
4. Pandemic and Remote Work Lead to Addiction Spike
Recovery Unplugged has said since the early days of the pandemic that stress and uncertainty today can very much lead to substance abuse and addiction tomorrow, especially for remote employees with less in-person accountability and more job-related anxiety. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has confirmed this assertion with some startling numbers in a recent survey:
- Over 25 percent of respondents had participated in a Zoom, or Microsoft Teams work call while under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or other recreational drugs.
- Over 20 percent admitted they’ve used alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs while employed remotely this year.
- Nearly 75 percent of those said that if their employer insists they return to the office, they will miss the opportunity to use marijuana and other drugs during the workday.
- More than 25 percent said an added benefit of working from home is the opportunity to use alcohol and other drugs during the workday.
Remote work and unprecedented anxiety have created the perfect storm for addiction, but there is more opportunity than ever for employers to help staff who are struggling find treatment through their own insurance provider.
5. The Biden Administration Embraces Harm Reduction
This year wasn’t all doom and gloom. The Biden-Harris plan has doubled down on lifesaving measures for those struggling with substance use who are gradually making their way to treatment. In its Statement of Drug Policy Priorities for Year One, the administration prioritizes:
- Expanding Access to Evidence-Based Treatment
- Advancing Racial Equity in their Approach to Drug Policy
- Enhancing Evidence-Based Harm Reduction Efforts
- Supporting Evidence-Based Prevention Efforts to Reduce Youth Substance Use
- Reducing the Supply of Illicit Substances
- Advancing Recovery-Ready Workplaces and Expanding the Addiction Workforce
- Expand Access to Recovery Support Services
Part of this harm-reduction strategy is encouraging the use of fentanyl test strips as well as providing a model law for states to help expand access to syringe services programs (SSPs). In the face of these alarming 2021 addiction statistics, it helps to know that a plan is in place to address the full scope of the problem.
6. Dopesick Brings the Opioid Crisis to Screen and Stream
One more important addiction-related event in 2021 was the release of the Hulu series Dopesick. The show took a raw and unflinching look at the birth and proliferation of the American opioid crisis and inspired Recovery Unplugged’s groundbreaking panel discussion series. We’re continuing the conversation with our brand-new series Talksicology, which airs every Thursday at 7 PM CST and features candid and in-depth conversations about addiction and recovery with members of the recovery community, clinicians, loved ones, prevention advocates, and other passionate voices.
Recovery Unplugged Saves More Lives than Ever
In the face of unprecedented collective mental health strain, public health anxiety, and opportunities for substance abuse and relapse, Recovery Unplugged is proud and honored to say that we have worked to save more lives than ever in 2021. We’re grateful to all our staff and our allies who have helped us provide a lifeline to clients and their loved ones during this immensely difficult time and look forward to saving more lives in 2022.
If you’ve been affected by 2021 addiction statistics and events, you’re not alone. Recovery Unplugged is ready to help you take your life back from substance use and rebuild your life in 2022. If you’re one of the millions in American who have been battling addiction for years, make 2022 the year you finally get the help that you need.