Data released by the CDC late last year shows a significant increase in deaths related to drug overdoses in 2020, resulting in “the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.”
The CDC reports, “Over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in May 2020…While overdose deaths were already increasing in the months preceding the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the latest numbers suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the pandemic.”
CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D., said, “The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard…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 were seen to be the main cause of the overdose deaths, “increasing 38.4 percent from the 12-month period leading up to June 2019 compared with the 12-month period leading up to May 2020.”
Over the course of that time period, the CDC reports that 37 of the 38 U.S. jurisdictions with available data reported increases in synthetic opioid-involved overdose deaths, with 18 of the jurisdictions reporting an increase greater than 50 percent. Ten western states reported over a 98 percent increase in synthetic opioid-involved deaths.
According to The Washington Times, the total drug overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending in July 2020 is estimated to be 83,544. However, the CDC reportedly said that it could be higher — closer to 86,000, due to underreporting.
Experts say that the combination of a change in treatment programs combined with social isolation during the pandemic could explain the sharp increase. People have also reportedly experienced more anxiety and depression this year, both contributing factors to substance abuse.
Dr. Nora Volkow is the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What we have known all along is that among people who overdose one of the factors that is contributing is depression,” Dr. Volkow said. “And in many instances, we know some of these deaths are motivated by a conscious desire to basically overdose or by passively doing that.”
However, isolation can also lead to overdoses resulting in death for reasons other than someone experiencing loneliness or depression. If no one is present to intercept an overdose or take someone to a facility for help, the likelihood of death might be much higher.
As reported by The Washington Times:
Naloxone can quickly reverse opioid overdoses, but pandemic-related isolation protocols have left many people with no one to observe them or administer the medication. This has led to more overdose deaths at home, Dr. Volkow said.
According to Christopher Garrett, spokesman for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of calls to the national crisis hotline also increased in 2020 by more than 700 percent from 2019.
Drug overdose deaths reportedly declined in 2018, the first decrease ever recorded. The CDC recorded 67,850 drug overdose deaths in December 2018 compared with nearly 70,700 at the end of 2017.
“In 2021, I hope we are able to actually start to get better numbers than those in 2020, but this will happen only if we focus resources strategically to intervene to actually help those that are more vulnerable,” Dr. Volkow said.