Overdose deaths soared to a record 93,000 last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Washington Post reports the estimated 93,331 deaths from drug overdoses last year, a record high, represent the sharpest annual increase in at least three decades. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate far eclipses the high of about 72,000 drug overdose deaths reached the previous year and amounts to a 29% increase. The 21,000 increase is the biggest year-to-year jump since the count rose by 11,000 in 2016.
The CDC reviewed death certificates to come up with the estimate for 2020 drug overdose deaths. The estimate of over 93,000 translates to an average of more than 250 deaths each day, or roughly 11 every hour. The CDC reported that in 2020 drug overdoses increased in all but two states, New Hampshire and South Dakota.
While prescription painkillers once drove the nation’s overdose epidemic, they were supplanted first by heroin and then by fentanyl, a dangerously powerful opioid, in recent years. Fentanyl was developed to treat intense pain from ailments like cancer but has increasingly been sold illicitly and mixed with other drugs.
“Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl) and psychostimulants such as methamphetamine also increased in 2020 compared to 2019. Cocaine deaths also increased in 2020, as did deaths from natural and semi-synthetic opioids (such as prescription pain medication),” the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics said in a statement.
Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, reiterated the CDC’s remarks.
“This has been an incredibly uncertain and stressful time for many people and we are seeing an increase in drug consumption, difficulty in accessing life-saving treatments for substance use disorders, and a tragic rise in overdose deaths,” Volkow said. “As we continue to address both the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid crisis, we must prioritize making treatment options more widely available to people with substance use disorders.”
If you are experiencing mental health struggles, please reach out for help. In the U.S., contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.