Drug Overdose Deaths Hit 93,331 Record High
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, drug overdose deaths in the United States hit a record high of 93,331 in 2020. According to a National Center for Health Statistics report, there was a 29% spike in drug-related deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts over 250 people died daily due to overdose.
Unfortunately, the news came as no surprise. Over a year ago, medical professionals and addiction treatment specialists warned about the possible surge of substance abuse cases due to lockdowns. According to experts, the lack of addiction treatment access, stress, and isolation would influence people to cope by using drugs or alcohol. As predicted, the nation’s COVID-19 pandemic made the Opioid epidemic worse.
During the pandemic, drug overdoses increased everywhere, besides in New Hampshire and South Dakota. The jumps in rates were the highest they have been in the past 5 years. Statistics published by the CDC speculate around 60% of drug-related deaths were due to synthetic Opioids, specifically Fentanyl.
Overdoses Caused By Fentanyl Use
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic Opioid 100 times stronger than Morphine. It is used to treat patients who have undergone surgery or are in severe pain. The medication is legal in the United States but not easily accessible due to federal regulations. Fentanyl is an excellent resource when used correctly, under a medical provider’s supervision.
Regrettably, Fentanyl is commonly misused. Much like other Opioids, many health care providers avoid prescribing the drug due to its highly addictive properties. Nearly 25% of patients prescribed Opioids for chronic pain abuse them, while 10% of those patients end up developing an Opioid use disorder. Today, around 10.1 million people mishandle Opioids a year.
Opioid’s addictive properties and the lack of access to the drug have created a market for illicitly manufactured Fentanyl. This vacuum led to the Opioid crisis’ third wave. In 1999, prescription painkillers drove the first wave, then Heroin in the early 2000s, and today Fentanyl.
In recent years, the drug’s popularity has soared among criminals. Dealers and narcos are utilizing Fentanyl to drive their revenue. Unlike federally regulated synthetic Opioids, illegal fentanyl is not consistent. It is typically mixed with other drugs like Heroin or Cocaine to increase its potency. The imitation is then sold in pill, nasal spray, or powder form like its legal counterpart; just much stronger. It is also used to “cut” other drugs. Due to the lack of federal oversight or quality control, illegal Fentanyl is often lethal.
Since 2013, synthetic Opioids like Fentanyl have caused the death of over 500,000 thousand Americans. The rise in potency in illicit Fentanyl and its proliferation is one reason why overdose deaths are accelerating and why last year they skyrocketed. For example, drug-related deaths in Kentucky climbed up to 54%, while in Vermont, the rate leaped to 58%. While the nation buckled in for a lengthy quarantine, the illegal sale of Fentanyl continued spreading throughout the country and ravaging our most vulnerable.
Since 1999 the number of Opioid-related deaths has quadrupled. The upturn in overdoses highlights a need for treatment and prevention expansion. As life slowly returns to normal, people in need of treatment must have access to care. The Opioid epidemic is not over yet. Though the limelight has shined on COVID-19 and its variants, it is crucial to remember that others are still facing a personal battles against Opioids.
In the United States, there are about 14,000+ substance abuse treatment facilities nationwide. If you or a loved one suspect you may have a substance use disorder, do not hesitate to reach out for help. It is important to seek treatment right away.