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Overdose Deaths Increase During COVID-19

Over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, according to recent data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In December 2020, the CDC called for expanded prevention efforts.


Overdose deaths were already increasing prior to the 2019 COVID-19 pandemic, however, the latest numbers suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the pandemic.

“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D. “As we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it’s important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences.”


Synthetic opioids (primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl) appear to be the primary driver of the increases in overdose deaths. increasing 38.4 percent.

· 37 of the 38 U.S. jurisdictions with available synthetic opioid data reported increases in synthetic opioid-involved overdose deaths.

· 18 of these jurisdictions reported increases greater than 50 percent.

· 10 western states reported over a 98 percent increase in synthetic opioid-involved deaths.


Overdose deaths involving cocaine also increased by 26.5 percent. These deaths are likely linked to co-use or contamination of cocaine with illicitly manufactured fentanyl or heroin. Overdose deaths involving psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, increased by 34.8 percent. The number of deaths involving psychostimulants now exceeds the number of cocaine-involved deaths.


“The increase in overdose deaths is concerning.” said Deb Houry, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “CDC’s Injury Center continues to help and support communities responding to the evolving overdose crisis. Our priority is to do everything we can to equip people on the ground to save lives in their communities.”


CDC recommendations


The increase in overdose deaths highlights the need for essential services to remain accessible for people most at risk of overdose and the need to expand prevention and response activities. CDC issued a health advisory with the following actions as appropriate based on local needs and characteristics:

· Expand distribution and use of naloxone and overdose prevention education.

· Expand awareness about and access to and availability of treatment for substance use disorders.

· Intervene early with individuals at highest risk for overdose.

· Improve detection of overdose outbreaks to facilitate more effective response.


What you can do


Not all overdoses have to end in death. Everyone has a role to play.

· Learn about the risks of opioids.

· Learn about naloxone, its availability, and how to use it.

· Help people struggling with opioid use disorder to find the right care and treatment.

· Learn more about CDC’s overdose surveillance and prevention efforts in your community


Learn more about what may help if you or someone you care about is increasing drug use during the COVID-19 pandemic.


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