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2020 Breaks Records in US Overdose Deaths

By Madeleine McCarthy ’21

COVID-19 is likely a cause for increase drug overdose rates in the US (Photo Credit: Time)
COVID-19 is likely a cause for an increase drug overdose rates in the US (Photo Credit: Time)

In 2019, overdose deaths in the United States rose to almost 72,000 from 67,367 in 2018. Still, 2020 held record-breaking numbers in overdose deaths, and experts believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is a large factor.

The most common drug overdoses are caused by opioids, both synthetic and prescription; In 2018, Opioids made up almost 70% of drug overdoses. Synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, are substantially stronger than regular opioids. In 2018, fentanyl contributed to over 31,000 overdose deaths according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Heroin, oxycontin, and vicodin are all examples of other opioids.

The United States actually witnessed a decrease in overdose deaths in 2018, attributed to President Donald Trump’s funding for addiction treatments, preventions, and recovery methods. However, overdose deaths increased by 4.6% the subsequent year, resulting in 70,980 deaths across 37 states and Washington, DC.

Fentanyl deaths are still on the rise. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, there is an “increasing number of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl” in the United States. Illegally manufactured fentanyl can be combined with cocaine or heroin without the user’s knowledge. The United States continues to see the detriments of illicitly manufactured fentanyl: the CDC reports that “illicitly manufactured fentanyl, as opposed to pharmaceutical fentanyl, is the main driver of the recent increase in deaths involving synthetic opioids.”

Experts suggest that many factors of the pandemic contributed to the rise in overdoses. A prominent factor is the social isolation of quarantine. Connection is usually crucial for someone in recovery. Typically, a recovering addict will see a therapist or friend when they are struggling. During COVID-19, though, recovering addicts are home nearly all day every day, without face-to-face human interaction, and usually without tasks or a job to occupy them. When addicts use drugs by themselves, their risk of overdosing increases. Additionally, loneliness due to isolation in quarantine has led to a spike in mental health statistics and, in turn, drug abuse and overdoses.

Addiction treatment centers have also closed, reducing the accessibility of overdose reversal drugs like naloxone. Not only do recovering addicts not have the proper facilities to prevent a drug relapse, but they also don’t have access to the facilities for treating any overdoses or drug reactions.


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