The U.S. Surpasses 1 Million Fatalities from the Addiction Epidemic


The year 2021 marked a particularly harsh moment in the nation’s drug addiction epidemic because 2021 was the year when drug overdose fatalities surpassed 1,000,000 since the CDC began recording such deaths in 1999. According to CDC data, 932,364 people died in the United States from drug overdoses between 1999 and 2020. And from the CDC’s preliminary estimates, about 100,000 drug overdose deaths are thought to have occurred in 2021. Combined, these figures push the death toll to over 1,00,000 lives lost between 1999 and 2021.

One million lives lost to drugs in a 22-year span is heart-rending, but perhaps most concerning of all is the fact that drug overdose deaths per year continue to go up, with each year recording more deaths than the last. This suggests that the next 22-year span may result in another million deaths (if not more) if fast action is not taken to address the crisis.

Now more than ever, the American people must become informed about the addiction epidemic and must insist that anyone they know who struggles with substance abuse receive treatment at a qualified drug and alcohol rehab center.

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The Fatal Cost of Drug Addiction

Drug addiction is a life or death affliction, a National Public Health Emergency that worsens every day. According to the public health institutions that study addiction in America, the addiction epidemic is expanding with more addictive drugs available to Americans and more lives lost every year.

The growing numbers of the epidemic are clearly evidenced when examining any drug that is misused in the United States. Considering just one drug type, opioids, the cost in terms of lives lost has risen dramatically every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 100,306 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses in 2020. That figure represents a 28.5% spike over the 78,056 documented overdose deaths in 2019. Opioids accounted for both the vast majority of 2020’s deaths and the significant increase in deaths over 2019, with 75,673 Americans dying from opioid-related overdoses in 2020 (compared to 56,064 deaths in 2019).

Beyond the sheer loss of life resulting from escalating drug abuse, other factors like the relatively young age of overdose victims add additional, cruel factors to the crisis. According to the data, adults between the ages of 35 and 44 were one of the age groups hit hardest by the addiction epidemic, with fatalities increasing 33% in this demographic between 2019 and 2020. And from 2020 to 2021, young people ages 15 to 24 saw the highest spike in overdose fatalities, with deaths up 49%. Young adults in the 25 to 34 age bracket have also been severely affected by the crisis.

What About Drug Addiction Makes it So Dangerous?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines drug addiction as such: “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain… Addiction is the most severe form of a full spectrum of substance use disorders, and is a medical illness caused by repeated misuse of a substance or substances.” This definition lays the foundation for explaining why addiction is so dangerous.

Building on the above definition, two factors of drug addiction seem to create the stark risk for death. One is the severe dependence that addicts have on their drugs of choice. The other factor is the toxic nature of drugs themselves, the chemicals of which pose a serious risk to the user’s life. For example, opioids slow heart rate and breathing, and if an addict takes too many opioids at once, cardiovascular function can come to a full stop, causing death.

Car accident on a highway

There are also the potentially fatal risk-taking behaviors that often go hand-in-hand with substance abuse. These include behaviors like drunk driving which often results from alcohol addiction and aggressive behavior that can result from experimenting with methamphetamine.

In conclusion, a toxic substance that creates a powerful dependency in those who use it results in life-threatening addiction.

Treatment Saves Lives

The scope of addiction in America has expanded in recent years, evidenced in part by soaring drug overdose deaths. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 21.2 million Americans over the age of 12 meet the criteria for drug or alcohol addiction. That figure reflects about 1 in 13 people.

One of the reasons why the death rate from drugs is so high is because of the stark gap between those who need treatment and those who receive it. Unfortunately, far too few individuals who need drug treatment receive it. According to a Drug Facts publication by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, only about 11.2% of those who need treatment get it.

Given the severe, life-threatening nature of drug addiction, the best thing one can do for an addict is to ensure they get help at a drug rehab. The more drug and alcohol addicts receive help at an accredited and qualified treatment center, the more lives will be saved.

If you know someone who is using drugs and alcohol and can’t stop, please contact a drug and alcohol rehab center today. Doing so could save a life.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.