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US drug overdoses hit an all-time high during the COVID pandemic in 2020

There were an estimated 93,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2020, which translates to an average of more than 250 deaths each day, or roughly 11 every hour.

That estimate far eclipses the high of about 72,000 drug overdose deaths reached the previous year and amounts to a 29% increase. “This is a staggering loss of human life,” said Brandon Marshall, a Brown University public health researcher who tracks overdose trends. Pandemic restrictions such as lockdowns isolated those struggling with drug addiction and made it more difficult for people to access treatment. The pandemic also exacerbated social isolation, trauma and job losses. 

Opioids, primarily the illegal synthetic opioid fentanyl, drove the increase in fatal drug overdoses. More than 69,000 deaths involving opioids were reported in 2020, a significant increase of nearly 20,000 reported the previous year. Deaths from methamphetamine and cocaine use also increased. “This is the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, and the largest increase since at least 1999,” Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), said in a statement.

“These data are chilling. The COVID-19 pandemic created a devastating collision of health crises in America,” Volkow said. 

Health experts say fentanyl is now frequently mixed into other widely used drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine, and users are often unaware. “Nearly all of this increase is fentanyl contamination in some way. Heroin is contaminated. Cocaine is contaminated. Methamphetamine is contaminated,” Shannon Monnat, associate professor of sociology at Syracuse University who researches geographic patterns in overdoses.

ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH

MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: NY DAILY NEWS

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