Another devastating result of the pandemic: The U.S. had a record number of drug overdose deaths in 2020

Needle and white substance on a piece of paper; drug overdose deaths rose to record levels in 2020
Photo via Dimitris Kalogeropoylos/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

More than 3 million Americans died in 2020, making it a record year for deaths in the United States. The majority of these deaths were a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, not only through the transmission of the virus but also due to several other factors. One of these factors, driven by isolation and a spike in joblessness, was drug overdoses. The U.S. experienced a record number of drug overdose deaths in 2020, soaring high above deaths from drug overdoses in other years. 

The U.S. government reported on July 14 that 93,000 Americans died from drug overdoses during the pandemic. The year before, the U.S. only experienced 72,000 drug overdose deaths, a difference of 29% between 2019 and 2020. 

The year 2020 saw the largest increase in drug overdose deaths ever recorded, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is also the largest increase year-over-year since 1999. 

The surge in overdose deaths was driven in large part by the prevalence of fentanyl, along with pandemic-related stress and a lack of access to care. Some states saw a larger increase than others, with Vermont, Kentucky, South Carolina, West Virginia, Louisiana, California, Tennessee, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Virginia seeing an increase of more than 40% between 2019 and 2020.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, called the newly released data “chilling.” She noted that people between the ages of 35-44 accounted for the highest number of deaths, according to NPR

“This has been an incredibly uncertain and stressful time for many people, and we are seeing an increase in drug consumption, difficulty in accessing lifesaving treatments for substance use disorders, and a tragic rise in overdose deaths,” Volkow said.

Other data additionally indicates that the Black community was hit particularly hard by drug overdose deaths, especially in Philadelphia and California. 

The federal government is working to address the rise in drug addiction and overdose deaths, according to Chuck Ingoglia, the CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. He told NPR that Congress has put a large sum of money toward “everything from harm reduction to increased treatment capacity.”

Sources: NPR, AP News

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