Overdose deaths likely claimed the lives of nearly 90,000 Americans left isolated and vomiting amid the pandemic, new data suggests.
Between September 2019 and August 2020, there were 88,295 “ predicted ” overdose deaths – a rough estimate based on early data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
That’s a record high for that period, surpassing the number of drug overdose fatalities compared to the previous September to August period of 19,000 deaths.
Fatal overdoses belong to a category called “ the death of despair ” by the CDC. Along with alcoholism and suicide, these fatalities are the result of isolation and poverty.
The latest data is a sobering reminder that a second health crisis – the opioid epidemic – continues to rage in America, both overshadowed and sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of overdose deaths for 2020 could easily exceed 90,000 by the time they are fully counted, a Commonwealth Fund analysis predicts.
Drug overdose deaths increased 50% during the pandemic, peaking at 9,000 deaths per month in the spring (blue). Three quarters of those deaths involved opioids (green) and 80% of the opioid deaths involved synthetic drugs such as fentanyl (orange)
Finally, drug fatalities began to decline to pre-pandemic levels in January.
But it came after record deaths month after month.
At the beginning of the pandemic’s grip on the US, the number of overdose deaths increased by 50 percent compared to years before.
Between February and May last year, there were about 9,000 deaths per month.
Previously, the record for overdose deaths since the CDC began tracking overdose deaths in the 1990s was 6,300.
Even after the peak of overdose in winter and spring in 2020, these deaths remained at record highs.
In August, models from the CDC and the Commonwealth Fund suggest that about 8,000 people died from drug overdoses
During the pandemic – and before it began – opioid overdose deaths were the main driver of overall trends in drug fatalities.
About three-quarters of the drug deaths in the first months of the pandemic in the US were opioids.
And 80 percent of those opioid deaths involved synthetic drugs like the ultra-potent fentanyl that has become the biggest culprit in the overdose epidemic.
West Virginia has historically experienced the greatest number of opioid overdose deaths each year, as the epidemic has been particularly harsh in the rural, poor state.
But during the pandemic, the strongest increases were seen in Louisiana and South Carolina, each of which saw overdose deaths increase by more than 60 percent between January and August 2020 compared to the previous year.
According to the Commonwealth Fund’s forecasts, no state was left untouched by the rise in overdose deaths.
However, the number of fatalities rose by less than 10 percent during the first eight months of the pandemic in Utah, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana and the Dakotas.
The number of overdose deaths rose by about a third nationwide between January and August.
Unfortunately, an upward trend in the number of overdose deaths was expected during the pandemic.
Social isolation is a primary risk factor for drug overdose, and avoiding each other was crucial to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Former President Trump argued that more lives would be lost during the pandemic from drug and alcohol addictions and suicides than from COVID-19.
Even if the overdose death toll for 2020 eventually rises to the 90,000 the Commonwealth Fund report warns, that will still be a fraction of the 556,000 lives lost to COVID-19 so far – or the 375,000 estimated were killed by the corona virus in 2020. only.
Still, there is no vaccine for the opioid epidemic.
President Biden has pledged to tackle the now silent epidemic of overdoses, but so far his government has done little about it.
In fact, Biden has reversed a Trump-era executive order that made buprenorphine, a drug used to facilitate the opioid withdrawal process, which has been proven to help prevent relapses.