Reports: Largest Increase of Year-over-Year Opioid Overdoses Ever Recorded in 2020

by Bethany Blankley


In a year marred by death from an ongoing pandemic, 2020 also saw record overdose deaths.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that 2020 saw a record year-over-year number of opioid overdose deaths.

More than 81,230 people died from a drug overdose between June 1, 2019, and May 31, 2020, the CDC provisional data shows. Revisions could drive that figure higher, the agency said.

“This represents a worsening of the drug overdose epidemic in the United States and is the largest number of drug overdoses for a 12-month period ever recorded,” the CDC stated.

The number of overdose deaths increased 18.2 percent from the 12-months ending in June 2019 to the 12-months ending in May 2020.

During this period, drug overdose deaths increased more than 20 percent in 25 states and the District of Columbia and increased by 10 percent in 11 states and New York City.

“The increases in drug overdose deaths appear to have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the CDC states, explaining that “Synthetic opioids are the primary driver of the increases in overdose deaths.”

State and local health department reports indicate that the increase in synthetic opioid-involved overdoses is primarily linked to the illicit manufacturing of fentanyl.

“A concerning acceleration of the increase in drug overdose deaths, with the largest increase recorded from March 2020 to May 2020,” the CDC reports, presents a national emergency.

The report comes as more people died in San Francisco in 2020 from drug overdoses than from the coronavirus, state and city data showed.

The Drug Overdose Prevention and Education Project, a taxpayer-funded city program, reported that 621 people died of a drug overdose in 2020 in San Francisco – roughly five times more than the number of people who died from or with the coronavirus, 173.

The number of overdose deaths tallied by the DOPE project is based on the number of times individuals report using Narcan, an emergency medication that can reverse an opiate overdose.

Officials say the overdose deaths are probably higher because they exclude deaths unreported or related to requesting Narcan. The emergency drug was used more than 3,000 times from January to November to save drug addicts’ lives in San Francisco.

Last year, during a May 19 White House Cabinet meeting, Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz argued, “To put all of this in perspective, I believe it is important to point out that, pre-pandemic, we lose 120,000 lives a year to drug overdose and suicide. How many more lives are we willing to sacrifice in the name of containing the virus?”

McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is a psychiatrist who also holds a doctorate in infectious disease epidemiology.

“As a psychiatrist, I would argue that a life lost to suicide is just as important as a life lost to coronavirus,” McCance-Katz said. “I ask that you take into account whole health, not just one narrow aspect of physical health.”

Historically, deaths involving such fentanyl are concentrated in 28 states east of the Mississippi River. Over the period analyzed, the largest increases in synthetic opioid deaths occurred in 10 western states, representing a 98 percent increase.

Increases in synthetic opioid overdose deaths were substantial in 12 southern states and the District of Columbia (an increase of 35.4 percent), six mid-western states (32.1 percent), and eight Northeastern states and New York City (21.1 percent).

Overdose deaths involving cocaine also increased by 26.5 percent from the 12-months ending in June 2019 to the 12-months ending in May 2020.

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Bethany Blankley is a contributor to The Center Square.






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