Data released by to CDC on Wednesday, November 17, 2021, confirmed earlier reports that drug overdoses continued to skyrocket with the country reaching 100,000 for the first time in U.S. history. The data measures overdose deaths from May 1, 2020, through April 30, 2021, a big heart of the pandemic. The total is even more staggering when one considers that overdose deaths were at 17,000 at the start of this century.


The numbers are significant for several reasons but for child welfare it is likely to have a significant impact. A 2018 report by the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) examined the impact of increased opioid use on foster care. Substance Use, the Opioid Epidemic, and the Child Welfare System: Key Findings from a Mixed Methods Study found a 10 percent increase in overdose death rates corresponded to a 4.4 percent increase in the foster care entry rate and a ten percent increase in the hospitalization rate due to drug use corresponded to a 3.3 percent increase in the foster care entry rate. At the time, the report indicated that more research was needed to understand better how economic opportunity and substance use interact at the community level, but they also conclude that action to address the risks and consequences of the opioid epidemic in communities simultaneously facing economic challenges need not wait. The economic circumstance in this case is the impact of the pandemic and the spread of potentially deadly fentanyl which is being found in other drug combinations. All of it ties back to the exploitation and overuse of prescription opioids over the past two decades.


The President issued a statement that said in part, “…we’ve delivered nearly $4 billion to strengthen and expand services for substance use disorder and mental health. We’re working to make health coverage more accessible and affordable for all Americans, so that more people who need care can get it. We are strengthening prevention, promoting harm reduction, expanding treatment, and supporting people in recovery, as well as reducing the supply of harmful substances in our communities. And we won’t let up.”


The increase over a year is approximately 30 percent but if one examines shortened figure of just the last six years (January 2015 to January 2021) overdoes have gone from under 50,000 to 100,000.


An examination of the CDC dashboard finds some of the most significant increases are in the states that have been struggling for several years.  Vermont leads with percentage deaths increases of 70 percent. For that small state that translates into 209 deaths compared to 123 the year before. Other significant increases include (April 2020 to April 2021):


  • West Virginia 1607 compared to 991 (62% increase)
  • Kentucky 2319 compared to 1501 (55% increase)
  • Louisiana 2218 compared to 1463 (51% increase)
  • Tennessee 3581 compared to 2385 (50% increase)
  • Mississippi 637 compared to 425 (50% increase)


New Jersey (2918), New Hampshire (372) and South Dakota (77) were the only states to show a decrease however slight.


Out of the 100,000 deaths 75,000 are from any form of opioids (including prescription medications, heroine, or fentanyl, etc.) and 64,000 are from fentanyl. As noted in some reports, the annual death toll would fill the University of Alabama football stadium. For an examination by each county in the country readers can go to this CDC website.