Increase in Drug Overdose Deaths in 2020

I don’t think it is shocking news to anyone that there were more overdoses during this past year than in previous years. Despite knowing this intuitively, calling attention to the numbers is still important work that needs to be done. Between the stresses of a global pandemic and the isolation we used to keep the virus from spreading, many people lost their lives in different ways. The data shows a raw, honest look at how drugs ended lives and it didn’t start in 2020.

Overdose deaths rose during the second half of 2019, and experts feared the pandemic would produce conditions that would further increase overdoses and deaths: economic shock, social isolation and increased mental health distress, and disrupted access to addiction support and medications that require face-to-face visits… The most recent data reflect September 2019 through August 2020. During that period, there were 88,295 predicted deaths, a record high that is almost 19,000 more deaths (27%) than the prior 12-month period.

Addiction support had to change as people could no longer attend in person meeting for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help through their recovery process. My personal experience with addiction was that the beginning was centered in overcoming my shame. If I had had to hide away for other reasons my shame would have kept me quiet when I most needed to be heard. Increases in deaths related to addiction would have been a difficult fact to face.

The CDC reports:

Opioid-related deaths drove these increases, specifically synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Opioids accounted for around 75 percent of all overdose deaths during the early months of the pandemic; around 80 percent of those included synthetic opioids.

Synthetic opioids (primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl) appear to be the primary driver of the increases in overdose deaths, increasing 38.4 percent from the 12-month period leading up to June 2019 compared with the 12-month period leading up to May 2020. During this time period:

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. Based upon earlier research, 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.

It is hard not to see these deaths as having been preventable. The work the CDC is doing with states and cities is helping bring attention to the need for more recovery centers, access to these centers, and money to help them grow and thrive. “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.”

In 2020 people moved to online meetings, reached out on social media, and grew their networks where they could. It has been beautiful to behold but so much more work needs to be done., including not losing focus when the pandemic is over. I have never been one for silver linings, but if these efforts can continue after the pandemic has passed maybe we can continue decreasing the trend, past what was normal before Covid and into a new realm of health and safety. The pandemic opened a lot of people’s eyes to how changes can be made to assist people, from working from home to creating more access to online networks we all saw adjustments made that I hope can continue as we create our new normal.

The official data is not yet available to tell us if this increase in overdoses has started to level out. Please continue to stay the course in your recovery and reach out to those around you. If you have a loved one in crisis reach out and let them know you are there for support however *they* need that support. Please keep these numbers and the individuals behind them in your prayers. Together we can get through.

For more assistance in your recovery please use the links below:

Please note: This blog post is to be used for inspirational use only, and not to be used as a substitute for medical advice. Quitting an addiction is fantastic, but it’s also important to know the safest methods for quitting your specific addiction, while minimizing any withdrawal effects.

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