Tens Of Thousands More People Died From Drug Overdose In 2020 Than Ever Before
A bag of assorted pills and prescription drugs dropped off for disposal is displayed during the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) 20th National Prescription Drug Take Back Day at Watts Healthcare on April 24, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. - According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US has seen an increase in drug overdose deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic, accelerating significantly during the first months of the public health emergency, including deaths from opioids and counterfeit pills containing fentanyl. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

The number of overdose deaths across the United States skyrocketed by nearly 30% last year, equating to tens of thousands more lives lost, according to preliminary federal data.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary counts for drug overdose deaths on Wednesday. The numbers showed that the number of people who died last year from overdoses shot up to 93,331 from 72,151 deaths in 2019, according to The Wall Street Journal. As the outlet reported:

The surge, the 2020 data show, was driven largely by a proliferation of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid whose use has spread across the nation. The pandemic amplified the epidemic of overdoses, bringing on social isolation, trauma and job losses, according to addiction experts and treatment providers. Overdose deaths began rising in the fall of 2019 with the spread of fentanyl, but really took off starting in March 2020, when pandemic-driven shutdowns and physical-distancing measures set in.

“That is a stunning number even for those of us who have tracked this issue,” Brendan Saloner, associate professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said regarding the new data. “Our public health tools have not kept pace with the urgency of the crisis.”

Of the pandemic and lockdowns, Saloner added, “It’s really one of those things where 2020 turbocharged something that was already wildly out of control.”

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is the leading cause of drug overdose deaths, accounting for nearly two-thirds, an estimated 57,550, of overdose deaths in 2020. The number of deaths due to fentanyl jumped over 50% from 2019, according to WSJ.

One of the leading sources of fentanyl in the United States is from drug smugglers along the U.S. southern border, a problem that has exploded in 2021. Along one stretch of border in Texas, Border Patrol officials have reported a 4,000% surge in fentanyl confiscation in the past four years, with the vast majority of that increase coming in 2021. As NBC News reported last month:

The Border Patrol says the rising amount of fentanyl is being found in the desert – transported by increasingly brazen smugglers who are exploiting stretched federal resources.

In 2018, the Border Patrol in the El Paso sector found just one pound of fentanyl outside ports of entry. In 2019, two pounds. In 2020, nine.

During the 2021 fiscal year, agents have found 41 pounds so far – a dramatic rise that experts attribute to the increasing role in drug cartels producing the illicit drug themselves with raw materials from China. The sharp rise from 2018 to 2020 suggests the coronavirus pandemic did not artificially inflate the 2021 numbers.

Illegal immigration has jumped along with fentanyl trafficking in 2021 under the Biden administration. Illegal immigrants are flooding the border in record numbers, straining federal and state resources. The number of illegal immigrants apprehended at the border has already hit a 15-year high for fiscal year 2021 with months left to go.

Related: A Major Crisis Deepened During The Covid Lockdowns: Opioids

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