CDC warns drug overdose deaths have skyrocketed during pandemic

The CDC has warned that drug overdose deaths have skyrocketed to unprecedented levels during the pandemic, particularly ones involving synthetic opioids. The report highlights one of the major unintended consequences of the pandemic and related disruption to daily life, something expected to have an impact on public health that lasts longer than the pandemic.

In the 12-month period ending in May 2020, the CDC reports that they were more than 81,000 deaths from drug overdoses in the US. Such deaths were trending upward before the pandemic, but spiked sharply in those early months of the issue, ultimately resulting in the highest year of overdose deaths ever reported in the US.

The rapid uptick in overdose deaths suggests the pandemic has hit individuals suffering from substance abuse particularly hard, with 'illicitly manufactured fentanyl' being the primary factor in these deaths. Comparing the numbers to the previous year, the CDC reports that overdose deaths increased 38.4-percent in the 12 months ending in May.

The CDC notes that 10 states reported more than a 98-percent increase in the number of synthetic opioid overdose deaths, as well as another 18 jurisdictions reporting more than a 50-percent increase. Cocaine joined illicit fentanyl in driving deaths, account for 26.5-percent.

The CDC notes that the use of cocaine made with heroin or illicit fentanyl likely played a role in these deaths. As well, methamphetamine overdose deaths jumped by a 34.8-percent, now exceeding the rates attributed to cocaine. CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, said:

The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard. As we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it's important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences.