Drug Overdoses in 2021 at Highest Level on Record According to CDC, Driven By Opioids

Jackson Lewis P.C.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published data on May 11, 2022 concluding that drug overdoses in 2021 reached the highest levels on record.  CDC stated that an estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in 2021, largely driven by opioids.  This figure is a 15% increase over the number of overdose deaths in 2020, and a 49% increase in the number of overdose deaths in 2019.  66% of overdose deaths in 2021 involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

Relatedly, the Drug Enforcement Administration made May 10, 2022 the first-ever Fentanyl Awareness Day, intended to educate individuals around the dangerous threat that fentanyl poses to the safety, health, and national security of Americans.  According to the DEA, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is approximately 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.  It is classified as a Schedule II narcotic under the federal Controlled Substances Act and is inexpensive, widely available, and highly addictive. Drug traffickers are increasingly mixing fentanyl with other illicit drugs—in powder and pill form—to drive addiction and create repeat customers. Many people who overdose do not even know that they are taking fentanyl.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl typically is used to treat pain especially after surgery.  It is also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids.  In prescription form, fentanyl is available as fentanyl “lollipops”, effervescent tablets, sublingual tablets, sublingual sprays, nasal sprays, transdermal patches and injectable formulations.

Fentanyl is not part of a standard 5-panel drug test.  Many employers assume that a generic opioid or opiate test will include synthetic or semi-synthetic opioids, but it does not.  Employers who wish to test for fentanyl must ask their drug testing vendors to test for it separately from the generic opioid panel.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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