Drug Overdose Deaths Rise During the Coronavirus Pandemic
83,544 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in July 2020. This was the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In all, more than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality. While 2018 saw a reduction in overdose deaths for the first time in 25 years, they returned to record highs in 2019 and 2020, fueled by the introduction of deadlier forms of fentanyl, and of course, the hardships felt by everyone from the coronavirus. The isolation combined with economic and personal hardships brought on by the pandemic appears to have contributed to the spike in overdose deaths.
“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D. “As we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it’s important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences.”
Synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl, are at the center of this increase in overdose deaths, increasing 38.4% in the 12-month period ending June 2019, compared with the 12-month period ending May 2020. During this time period, 10 western states reported over a 98 percent increase in synthetic opioid-involved deaths.
Overdose deaths involving cocaine also increased by 26.5%. Based upon earlier research, these deaths are likely linked to co-use or contamination of cocaine with illicitly manufactured fentanyl or heroin. Overdose deaths involving psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, increased by 34.8 percent. The number of deaths involving psychostimulants has now exceeded the number of cocaine-involved deaths.
This sharp increase in overdose deaths highlights the need for effective drug rehabilitation services. Those at risk of overdose need urgent help.
Urgent Need for Treatment
With more than 750,000 people dead from a drug overdose since 1999, the dire need for effective treatment has never been more urgent than right now.
The added stress of the pandemic and its related known triggers for addiction and relapse— job loss, lack of social support and grief—have exacerbated an already dangerous environment.
Too many lives have been lost. Too many brilliant minds have been destroyed by this plague.
Imagine what our country would be like if every one of those 750,000 lives lost had been salvaged.
Our world needs the skills and talents of these lost individuals. Talents that can be focused on solving the societal problems that affect us all—economy, environment, healthcare and education to name just a few.
We do not have to continue losing loved ones to addiction. There is hope. We can turn this around. The coming years do not have to repeat the past. There are nationwide prevention efforts that are bearing fruit. There are treatment facilities with dedicated staff who do everything they can to help recover those lost to addiction. The solution is effective addiction treatment that does not replace one drug for another and renewed efforts to educate the public on the devastating effects of drugs and alcohol.