CDC: U.S. had most drug overdose deaths on record in 2020

By Alex Tanzi

Bloomberg News

U.S. drug overdose deaths soared almost 30% to a record 93,331 in the pandemic year of 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Deaths increased by more than 21,000 from 2019, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics said in data published Wednesday. That means an average of 256 Americans died from overdosing every day, up from 198 the year before. Since 1999, overdose deaths have increased 450%.

The surge in overdoses came during a year that saw hundreds of thousands of Americans killed by COVID-19. It illustrates how the pandemic has worsened other medical problems — from mental health issues triggered by isolation, to conditions that went untreated because patients delayed visiting their doctors out of fear of catching the virus. There’s also been an increase in suicide attempts.

The drug crisis has likely been exacerbated by pandemic-induced lockdowns and recession, with millions of workers losing their jobs and support services like clinics and counseling shutting down or only available online.

Opioids — including prescription pain medicine — caused about three-quarters of overdose deaths last year, according to the CDC. The number of cases rose to 69,710, an increase of almost 18,000. The country has been suffering an opioid epidemic for at least a decade, leading to multibillion-dollar lawsuits against companies that made the drugs.

Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, and psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, also increased in 2020, as did deaths from cocaine, according to the CDC report.