According to data released on July 15 by health officials, a record number of Americans died of drug overdoses in 2020 as pandemic lockdowns made finding treatment challenging.
The increase also reflects the pandemic’s toll on efforts to quell the opioid crisis. Unlike past years, 2020 brought added complications of a worldwide viral pandemic. As a result, Healthcare resources were stretched to capacity and redirected toward controlling the spread of the virus and treating those hospitalized.
Also, dealers began lacing more drugs, including cocaine and meth, with the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl to boost their effects. Moreover, the drugs themselves became more lethal as well.
The Latest Estimates
According to preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. fatalities from drug overdoses jumped nearly 30 percent in the year ending in 2020 to more than 93,000 in 2020—the highest ever recorded. This finding is compared with the estimated 72,151 deaths in 2019.
While overdose deaths were already rising in the months and years preceding the COVID-19 outbreak, the latest data revealed a major increase during the pandemic. In addition, data found that opioids were involved in nearly 75% of overdose fatalities, rising to 69,710 in 2020 from 50,963 in 2019.
According to the new data, California, the most populous state, experienced an increase in deaths of 45.9% from December 2019 to December 2020. In Vermont, fatalities rose by 57.6%, the most significant increase in the U.S., followed by Kentucky at 53.7%
Due in part to the increased use of fentanyl in drugs, deaths rose related to cocaine or methamphetamine. A spokesperson for National Institute on Drug Abuse stated in an interview that fentanyl has so thoroughly infiltrated the illegal drug supply that 70% of overdose deaths related to cocaine and 50% of meth overdose fatalities also involved fentanyl.
Social distancing rules also limited access to programs that offer opioid substitution therapy or safe injection sites where observers could promptly administer the overdose antidote naloxone, leaving many drug users to fend for themselves and ultimately die alone.
Due to stay-at-home orders, addicts could not attend peer support group meetings in person or visit counselors or therapists for live one-on-one sessions. Some may not even have personal access to sponsors.
Lockdowns and social distancing almost certainly contributed to the rise in overdose deaths in less obvious ways, too. Isolation is a factor that contributes significantly to anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
Furthermore, mental health problems play significant roles in drug addiction. And increased drug abuse contributes to more negative feelings, which, in turn, lead to a vicious cycle that is nearly impossible to break free of without medical intervention.
“The pandemic has led to increased substance use across the board, as people have sought to manage stress, isolation, boredom, anxiety, depression, unemployment, relationship and child care issues, and housing instability,” Kimberly Sue, medical director for the National Harm Reduction Coalition told the Washington Post. This advocacy group seeks to prevent overdose deaths and other adverse consequences of drug use.
What’s Being Done?
There are signs that the Biden administration and Congress are planning to renew efforts to address what was the country’s most severe public health crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, President Biden nominated former West Virginia public health official Rahul Gupta last week to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy and direct the response to the opioid epidemic. Gupta has stated the lack of access to in-person care during the pandemic is one of the contributors to increased public health problems related to addiction.
The Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control is set to hold a hearing this week on moving forward regarding the drug crisis. The White House has asserted that fighting the overdose epidemic is an “urgent priority,” and is planning a slate of goals that include increased harm reduction efforts and strengthening recovery supports.
Biden’s proposed budget also requests investing $41 billion in national drug program agencies with increased funding for research-based treatment and prevention services.
Getting Help for Drug Abuse, Dependence, and Addiction
Opioid addiction is an incredibly destructive disease that has the potential to cause widespread damage to the brain and body, resulting in significant health complications, mental health problems, permanent brain damage, and even death.
Those addicted to opioids, other drugs, or alcohol are urged to participate in a long-term addiction treatment program just as those offered by Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery. In addition, we offer integrated, clinically proven therapeutic services and activities that include psychotherapy, group support, psychoeducation, counseling, art, music therapy, aftercare planning, and more.
We employ compassionate medical professionals with expertise in addiction who provide those we treat with the support, knowledge, education, and tools they need to succeed at recovery and experience long-lasting wellness and sobriety.