An overdose explosion in 2020, with high numbers continuing into last year, leads to the most depressing conclusion of all: There is simply no reason whatsoever to think things are getting better, or about to get better soon.

There is no good news to be found regarding the drug epidemic, judging by a wealth of information recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We now have final drug-death data through 2020, provisional data that reaches through about half of 2021, and a formal report from the agency summarizing trends since 1999.

None of it looks good. Drug deaths have risen almost continuously for more than 20 years, though the mix of substances involved has shifted. Overdoses shot up especially during the pandemic. And where the epidemic was once heavily concentrated among whites, in 2020, the black OD rate actually surpassed the white one.

This chart from the CDC report illustrates the scale of the problem. Overdoses slowly but steadily grew for about the first 15 years of the 21st century. They shot up more dramatically for a couple years after that, then stalled, and then lurched upward again in 2020, when the number of fatal overdoses totaled about 90,000. If you randomly picked 100,000 Americans at the beginning of 2020, about 30 of them would have overdosed by the end of the year.

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