Health Care

Overdose Deaths Surged to Record High during COVID Lockdown

Cataldo Ambulance medics and other first responders revive a 32-year-old man who was found unresponsive and not breathing after an opioid overdose on a sidewalk in Everett, Mass., August 23, 2017. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Drug overdose deaths soared to a record high in 2020 as COVID lockdowns overtook much of the country.

More than 93,000 Americans passed away due to overdose, a more than 20,000 death increase from 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Deaths attributable to natural, synthetic, and semi-synthetic opioids, as well as cocaine and psychostimulants all saw upticks, but a surge opioid deaths were chiefly responsible for the discouraging numbers, going up from 50,963 in 2019 to 69,710 in 2020. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), called the data “chilling.”

This marked not only the highest number of deaths ever, but the largest increase in the number of deaths since 1999. Volkow asserted that “the COVID-19 pandemic created a devastating collision of health crises in America.”

The pandemic inspired much public debate over the efficacy and unforeseen consequences of public policy measures calling for social isolation as well as business and school closures. This data would seem to suggest that the emotional toll of such measure did indeed result in deleterious public health outcomes.

“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,” explained Volkow.



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