US reports record 93,000 deaths due to drug overdose in 2020
- US government said that overdose deaths have reached a new high of 93,000 in 2020
- Experts have said that lockdowns confined persons with drug addictions
- Fentanyl, a strong opioid, has been reported as the primary candidate causing overdose
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, overdose deaths have reached a new high of 93,000 in 2020, according to the US government. This figure considerably exceeds the previous year's high of over 72,000 drug overdose deaths, representing a 29% rise.
“This is a staggering loss of human life,” Brandon Marshall, a Brown University public health researcher who tracks overdose trends, told Associated Press (AP). The nation was already struggling with its worst overdose epidemic but clearly “COVID has greatly exacerbated the crisis,” he added.
Experts have said that lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions confined persons with drug addictions, making therapy more difficult to get. Prescription pills were previously the primary cause of the nation's overdose crisis, but in recent years, heroin and subsequently fentanyl, a dangerously strong opioid, have taken their place. Fentanyl was created to relieve severe pain caused by illnesses such as cancer, but it is increasingly being sold illegally and combined with other drugs.
“What’s really driving the surge in overdoses is this increasingly poisoned drug supply," Shannon Monnat, an associate professor of sociology at Syracuse University who researches geographic patterns in overdoses, told AP. “Nearly all of this increase is fentanyl contamination in some way. Heroin is contaminated. Cocaine is contaminated. Methamphetamine is contaminated.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined death certificates to calculate the number of drug overdose fatalities expected in 2020. The estimated death toll of approximately 93,000 equates to more than 250 deaths every day or nearly 11 per hour. The increase of over 21,000 is the largest year-over-year increase since the count increased by 11,000 in 2016.
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Because of the widespread availability of fentanyl, several experts do not foresee a significant decrease in opioid overdose deaths this year. Though nationwide numbers aren't yet available, evidence from individual states is surfacing that appears to back up their pessimism. In January and February, for example, Rhode Island recorded 34 overdose deaths, the highest number in at least five years.
Overdose fatalities were just one element of a year that was the worst in American history. More than 3.3 million people this year, with COVID-19 being blamed for around 378,000 fatalities.