Drug deaths in the U.S. hit the highest level ever recorded last year with more than 93,000 Americans dying from an overdose, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Wednesday.
The number of deaths from drug overdoses rose by 29% from the previous record of 72,151 deaths in 2019, the largest year-over-year jump, the CDC has seen.
Vermont deaths grew the most between 20219 and 2020, the CDC found, with 57.6% more reported deaths from drug overdoses in 2020 compared to the previous year.
Drug overdoses increased in every U.S. state except for New Hampshire and South Dakota.
The CDC says the surge in deaths was driven largely by a jump in the use of synthetic opioids like fentanyl, as well as of cocaine, methamphetamine and semi-synthetic opioids like prescription pain medication.
The coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdown and recession were contributing factors, health officials said, adding that treatment and support for drug addiction became harder for many to access last year.
“This has been an incredibly uncertain and stressful time for many people and we are seeing an increase in drug consumption, difficulty in accessing life-saving treatments for substance use disorders, and a tragic rise in overdose deaths,” Nora Volkow, director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, told CNN in a statement.
Experts warned in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic that social distancing, lockdowns and the recession would have mental health impacts. The World Health Organization said in October 2020 that the pandemic caused many people to experience isolation and grief, feelings that can contribute to increased drug and alcohol use. Lockdowns also cut many people off from live-saving resources, including harm reduction services like syringe programs and maintenance treatment for opioid addiction, the WHO said.