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• Fentanyl overdoses are the No. 1 killer among Americans age 18 to 45. In fact, fentanyl overdoses have outpaced the No. 2 killer by a growing margin over the past three years, according to data compiled by an advocacy group from federal statistics.
• However, the post has overstated the differential between fentanyl overdoses and the other four causes of death. There are still roughly twice as many deaths collectively from the other four categories as there are from fentanyl overdoses.
A Facebook post warning about the dangers of the drug fentanyl makes a credible case about why Americans should be concerned about its spread, but in so doing, the post overstates a key statistic.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the federal National Institutes of Health.
In 2019, PolitiFact West Virginia gave a Mostly True rating to the statement that "just two weeks ago, Customs and Border Protection seized enough fentanyl to kill every person in West Virginia 32 times over."
While fentanyl can be used as a prescription drug, it is increasingly being found in substances sold on the black market, which has led to a spike in overdose deaths.
The opening paragraph of the Dec. 19 Facebook post said, "It was announced this week that more people, aged 18-45, died of Fentanyl overdoses in 2020 than covid, car accidents, cancer, + suicide combined. Read. That. Again."
The part the post gets right is that fentanyl now ranks No. 1 on the list of biggest killers of 18-to-45 year olds in the United States, and by a wide margin. The calculations were made by the group Families Against Fentanyl, using data drawn from a mortality database maintained by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The group looked at the past three years: April 2018 to April 2019; April 2019 to April 2020; and April 2020 to April 2021.
The group’s calculation found that fentanyl was the biggest killer in that age group in all three years, and that the margin has been growing.
In the year ending in April 2019, fentanyl overdose deaths outpaced suicides, the second-ranking cause of death in that age group that year, 23,556 to 21,195.
In the year ending in April 2020, fentanyl overdose deaths outpaced suicides, 37,087 to 21,441.
But in the year ending April 2021, fentanyl overdose deaths outpaced the new No. 2 killer, automobile accidents, by the largest margin yet, 40,010 to 22,442.
Where the post goes wrong is in the specifics of its comparison.
In the year ending in April 2021, there were 21,335 deaths from the coronavirus in this age group, along with 22,442 from automobile accidents, 17,114 from cancer, and 21,678 from suicide. That adds up to 82,569 deaths, or more than twice the 40,010 deaths from fentanyl overdoses that year.
The numbers are closer for the year ending in April 2020, but the combination of the four other causes was still about 1.8 times the number of fentanyl overdoses that year.
The figures for the final two years in the analysis are considered preliminary and subject to revision by the CDC, but typically those changes are small, so the broad pattern is expected to hold.
The post said that "more people, aged 18-45, died of Fentanyl overdoses in 2020 than covid, car accidents, cancer, + suicide combined."
Fentanyl overdoses are indeed the No. 1 killer in that age group in the U.S., and by a growing margin, according to data compiled by an advocacy group from federal statistics.
However, the post has overstated the differential between fentanyl overdoses and the other four causes of death. In reality, there are still roughly twice as many deaths collectively from the other four categories as there are from fentanyl overdoses.
We rate the statement Half True.
Facebook post, Dec. 19, 2021
National Institute on Drug Abuse, "What is fentanyl?" accessed Dec. 23, 2021
Families Against Fentanyl, "Fentanyl Fatalities," accessed Dec. 23, 2021
Families Against Fentanyl, methodology, accessed Dec. 23, 2021
KSL radio, "Fentanyl overdoses killing more Americans than COVID-19," Dec 21, 2021
Snopes.com, "Did Fentanyl Overdose Become Top Cause of Death for Adults Aged 18-45 in the US?" Dec. 21, 2021
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