Alongside the Covid-19 pandemic, the United States is continuing to battle another crisis that has gripped it for decades – the opioid epidemic. On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary data showing that drug overdose deaths spiked by nearly 30% last year to reach just over 92,000, a figure that is predicted to eventually grow to more than 93,000. On top of an increase in deaths in 2019, the data represents a further blow after overdose deaths experienced a decline in 2018 for the first time in 20 years.
The CDC data shows that overdose deaths increased in every single U.S. state in 2020 with the exception of two – South Dakota and New Hampshire. The trend was most noticeable in the south and west of the country with Vermont, Kentucky and South Carolina seeing the highest percentage increases. As well as setting the record for the most U.S. overdose deaths in a single year, 2020 also saw the most deaths from opioids, from synthetic opioids and stimulants such as methamphetamine.
A New York Times analysis of the data claims that the drug overdose death toll in 2020 saw Americans lose a combined 3.5 million years of life compared to approximately 5.5 million years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, the analysis blames the pandemic for the surge in overdose deaths last year with the crisis undoubtedly disrupting outreach and treatment programs as well as increasing levels of social isolation.
Despite that, experts maintain that the contributory factors to the surge in overdose deaths were already in place prior to Covid-19, primarily due to fentanyl becoming increasingly common and replacing heroin in many areas. Fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and it is finding its way into other drugs such as heroin and meth, driving up the overdose rate.
On Tuesday, President Biden nominated Dr. Rahul Gupta to run the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The first medical doctor to serve as the country’s drug czar since the post was created in 1988, he previously served as West Virginia’s public health and state health officer. He has been praised for his aggressive response to the state’s opioid crisis, which consistently ranked among the worst in the nation.
*Click below to enlarge (charted by Statista).