Drug overdose deaths up nearly 30% in U.S. during pandemic-scarred 2020

July 14 (UPI) -- Drug overdose deaths rose by nearly 30% in the United States in 2020, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Center for Health Statistics.

An estimated 93,331 drug overdose deaths were reported nationally last year -- a record -- up from the 72,151 deaths estimated for 2019, the data showed.


Overdose deaths related to opioid use increased to 69,710 in 2020 from 50,963 a year earlier, with much of this rise fueled by synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and semi-synthetic opioids such as prescription pain medications, according to the agency, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overdose deaths associated with "psycho-stimulants" such as methamphetamine increased by 47% in 2020 from 2019, as did deaths related to cocaine use, which spiked 22%.

The number of overdose deaths is the highest

"These statistics are not just speaking clearly -- they are shouting," Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told UPI in a phone interview.

"And they are saying what we are currently doing -- criminalizing drug use, not putting resources behind preventing and treating substance use disorders -- is not working," Volkow said.


The numbers are provisional estimates based on hospital admissions and cause of death data reported to the CDC.

Suicide rates declined in the United States and much of the world in 2020, a year dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which suggests that many of the drug overdose deaths that occurred were "likely unintentional," Volkow said.

Though overdose deaths related to heroin declined slightly last year, reports suggest that much of the drug's supply nationally is laced with fentanyl, a strong opioid-based painkiller, as well as animal tranquilizers, making it even more dangerous, she said.

However, supplies of methamphetamine and cocaine also may be contaminated, though Volkow said many of the overdose deaths linked with these drugs could involve users who combine them with opioids.

Regardless of the drug involved, a large number of these overdose deaths occurred in adults ages 35 to 44, many of whom have families, according to Volkow.

"In addition to the loss felt by their loved ones, in many cases, were it not for their having substance use disorder, these would be people who would have successful professional careers, so the productive years of life lost is gigantic," Volkow said.


"This is a significant societal problem that requires a unified national response and significant resources, similar to our country's response to the pandemic, she said.

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