Prisons and jails in the United States have been increasingly deadly places in recent years, according to new federal data. But one cause of death has climbed most dramatically: overdoses.
From 2001 to 2018, the number of people who have died of drug or alcohol intoxication in state prisons rose more than 600%, according to an analysis of newly-released data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In county jails, overdose deaths increased by more than 200%.
Most of these increases have come in recent years: 2018 brought the highest number of prison deaths on record since the federal government began collecting this data 20 years ago. And that was before the pandemic. (The new federal data does not include 2019 or 2020.)
Even outside of prisons and jails, drug overdose deaths are at historic levels, according to federal data released on Wednesday. Last year, the nationwide death toll increased by nearly 30% from 2019. The devastating trend was driven by opioids, primarily illegal fentanyl.
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