Over 100,000 drug overdose deaths in US during a year of pandemic

Death toll represents 30% rise and is more than car crashes and gun fatalities combined

memorial service in Baltimore for a man who died of an overdose. Photograph: Andrew Mangum/The New York Times

memorial service in Baltimore for a man who died of an overdose. Photograph: Andrew Mangum/The New York Times

 

Americans died of drug overdoses in record numbers as the pandemic spread across the country, federal researchers reported on Wednesday, the result of lost access to treatment, rising mental health problems and wider availability of dangerously potent street drugs.

In the 12-month period that ended in April, more than 100,000 Americans died of overdoses, up almost 30 per cent from the 78,000 deaths in the prior year, according to provisional figures from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The figure marks the first time the number of overdose deaths in the United States has exceeded 100,000 a year, more than the toll of car crashes and gun fatalities combined. Overdose deaths have more than doubled since 2015.

Administration officials said on Wednesday they will expand access to medications like naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose, by encouraging states to pass laws that will make it more widely available and promoting its use by Americans.

“I believe that no one should die of an overdose simply because they didn’t have access to naloxone,” said Dr Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Sadly, today that is happening across the country, and access to naloxone often depends a great deal on where you live.”

The rise in deaths – the vast majority caused by synthetic opioids – was fuelled by widespread use of fentanyl, a fast-acting drug that is 100 times as powerful as morphine. Increasingly, fentanyl is added surreptitiously to other illegally manufactured drugs to enhance their potency.

Overdose deaths related to use of stimulants like methamphetamine, cocaine, and natural and semi-synthetic opioids, such as prescription pain medication, also increased during the 12-month period. People struggling with addiction and those in recovery are prone to relapse, said Dr Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The initial pandemic lockdowns and subsequent fraying of social networks, along with the rise in mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, helped create the crisis.

So, too, did the postponement of treatment for substance abuse disorders, as healthcare providers nationwide struggled to tend to huge numbers of coronavirus patients and postponed other services. About 70 per cent of these deaths were among men ages 25-54. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times