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U.S. drug deaths reached record high in 2019, federal figures show


The annual U.S. drug death toll, a figure that has climbed relentlessly for decades, reached a record high in 2019 after muted signs of progress the previous year, according to preliminary data released Wednesday by the federal government.

Nearly 72,000 people died in drug overdoses last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in its provisional count, up nearly 5% from 2018.

Deaths have surged so much since the mid-1990s amid the opioid crisis that a slight slip to around 68,000 fatalities in 2018 was viewed cautiously as progress when new figures came out last summer.

But the improvement didn’t continue in the next calendar year. All but 14 U.S. states logged increases in deaths in 2019, according to the CDC’s provisional count.

“Year-in and year-out data like this just represents a massive policy failure,” Brendan Saloner, an addiction researcher at Johns Hopkins University, told the Daily News. “We have ways to get these numbers down.”

New York State ranked among the outliers, as its death count fell by about 5.8%, according to the preliminary data. A cluster of northeastern states made headway; Vermont’s death toll dove by more than 18%.

In 2017, there were some 70,237 drug overdose deaths in the U.S., according to official figures, a record at the time.