ClaimFentanyl is the leading cause of death in adults in the United States
the facts: Experts say that deaths from fentanyl overdose, while high, are not the leading cause of death among all adults in the United States. Heart disease and cancer are causing more people to die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Social media users, including some Republican elected officials, have claimed that synthetic opioids are the number one killer of adults in the United States. on Twitter. “Until POTUS secures our southern border, this crisis will only get worse.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California also shared the congressman’s tweet.
That’s not the case, according to experts and CDC data. “It’s not the leading cause of death for all adults,” said Kenneth Leonard, MD, director of the University at Buffalo Institute for Clinical Research on Addiction. “I wouldn’t cut back on fentanyl as a problem, but it’s definitely hard to say it’s the leading cause of death,” said Lewis Nelson, MD, professor of pharmacology, physiology, and neuroscience at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
That distinction applies to heart disease and cancer, said Dan Cicaroni, MD, professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. About 71,000 people died from overdoses of synthetic opioids like fentanyl in 2021, up from about 58,000 in 2020, according to the CDC. By comparison, the CDC estimates that in 2020, nearly 700,000 people died from heart disease, about 600,000 from cancer and about 350,000 from COVID-19.
McCarthy’s spokesmen did not respond to an AP request for comment. Andrea Coker, a Van Duyne spokeswoman, wrote in an email that while heart disease may be the leading killer of older American adults, “the CDC reports that fentanyl is the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 45.” As part of its response, Coker provided a link to an analysis by the Ohio-based nonprofit Family Against Fentanyl that determined that fentanyl was the number one killer of people ages 18 to 45 in 2019 and 2020. The group analyzed publicly available CDC data by comparison and according to the spokeswoman Moira Muntz, deaths from synthetic opioids as a result of other causes of death over the past few years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not verified that fentanyl is the number one killer among people in that age group, said Jeff Lancashire, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The agency uses death certificates to identify the leading causes of death in the United States. In its datasets, fentanyl deaths are included as part of a larger category of deaths attributable to synthetic opioids. Synthetic opioids, which include drugs such as fentanyl and tramadol, are different from natural opioids, such as morphine, and semi-synthetic opioids, such as oxycodone, according to the CDC. Lancashire said that while fentanyl is responsible for the majority of synthetic opioid deaths, the CDC lacks breakthrough data on deaths from fentanyl specifically.
Drug overdose deaths are spread over four different causes of death, although the vast majority of them fall into the “accidental” category. The rest are classified as suicides, homicides, or unspecified. According to preliminary data for 2021, accidents were the leading cause of death for people aged 18 to 45, with accidental synthetic opioid overdoses accounting for less than half of those deaths, Lancashire wrote. He wrote, “Fentanyl alone does not appear to be the leading cause of death among 18-45-year-olds, and certainly not the leading cause of death in all adults.” “However, we are not separating the main causes in such a way that we can classify fentanyl anywhere.”
— Associated Press writer Josh Keleti in Phoenix contributed to this report.