U.S. Overdose Deaths Soared During COVID-19 Pandemic

There were more than 87,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States from October 2019 to September 2020, the highest of any one-year period since the nation's opioid crisis began in the 1990s.

THURSDAY, April 15, 2021 -- There were more than 87,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States from October 2019 to September 2020, the highest of any one-year period since the nation's opioid crisis began in the 1990s, preliminary government data shows.

The death toll was 29% higher than in the previous 12-month period and the increase was largely driven by Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, with stimulant drugs such as methamphetamine also playing a role, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Whites in rural and suburban areas accounted for many of the deaths in the early years of the U.S. opioid epidemic, but the latest data shows Blacks being affected disproportionately.

"The highest increase in mortality from opioids, predominantly driven by fentanyl, is now among Black Americans," National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Dr. Nora Volkow said at an addiction conference last week, The New York Times reported.

"And when you look at mortality from methamphetamine, it's chilling to realize that the risk of dying from methamphetamine overdose is 12-fold higher among American Indians and Alaskan Natives than other groups," she added.

Volkow added that more deaths than ever involved drug combinations, typically of fentanyl or heroin with stimulants.

"Dealers are lacing these non-opioid drugs with cheaper, yet potent, opioids to make a larger profit," she said. "Someone who's addicted to a stimulant drug like cocaine or methamphetamine is not tolerant to opioids, which means they are going to be at high risk of overdose if they get a stimulant drug that's laced with an opioid like fentanyl."

Overdose deaths fell slightly in 2018 for the first time in decades, but started to climb again the months before the COVID-19 pandemic, and had the highest spike in April and May 2020.

The pandemic likely exacerbated the upward trend of overdose deaths, according to the Times.

In the early months of the pandemic, many addiction treatment centers shut down, at least temporarily, and services were reduced at many drop-in centers that offer support, clean syringes and the overdose-reversal medication naloxone. In many cases, those services have not been fully restored.

Also, the drug overdose crisis has received less attention and resources as the country struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Times said.

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