US deaths from drug overdose rise a record 30% during Covid-19 pandemic

2021-07-15 18:06:39
US deaths from drug overdose rise a record 30% during Covid-19 pandemic

A record number of Americans died of drug overdoses last year as isolation from coronavirus restrictions led to more drug abuse and made getting treatment difficult, while drugs themselves became more deadly, according to a new report.

U.S. deaths from drug overdoses leapt nearly 30% to more than 93,000 in 2020 - the highest ever recorded, Reuters reported, citing data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"During the pandemic, a lot of (drug) programs weren't able to operate. Street-level outreach was very difficult. People were very isolated," said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, a health policy expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

On a day-to-day basis, Sharfstein estimates that the United States is now seeing more overdose deaths than COVID-19 deaths.

"This is a different kind of crisis, and it's not going to go away as quickly."

While overdose deaths were already increasing in the months preceding the COVID-19 outbreak, the latest data show a stark acceleration during the pandemic.

Social distancing reduced access to programs that offer needle exchange, opioid substitution therapy or safe injection sites where observers could deploy the overdose antidote Narcan, leaving many addicts to die alone.

Moreover, during stay-at-home orders, addicts were unable to attend support group meetings in person or visit their therapists for live one-on-one sessions.

Pandemic lockdowns and distancing likely contributed to the rise in overdose deaths in less obvious ways, too.

Isolation is known as a factor in anxiety and depression, said Kate Judd, program director at Shoreline Recovery Center, the San Diego rehab facility that treated Maddela. Those feelings can lead to drug abuse.

The drugs themselves became more deadly as well. Drug suppliers more frequently mixed fentanyl with cocaine and methamphetamine to boost their effects, said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health.

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