Drug Overdose Deaths Reach Record Level During COVID-19 Pandemic, CDC Issues Health Advisory

According to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdose deaths have reached record-high levels in the United States. Over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the U.S. in the 12 months ending in May 2020, representing the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded. While overdose deaths were already increasing in the months prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the latest numbers suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the pandemic.

Synthetic opioids, primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl, appear to be the primary driver of the increases in overdose deaths, increasing 38.4 percent from the 12-month period leading up to June 2019 compared with the 12-month period leading up to May 2020. During this period, 37 out of the 38 U.S. jurisdictions with available synthetic opioid data reported increases in synthetic opioid-involved overdose deaths and 10 western states reported over a 98 percent increase in synthetic opioid-involved deaths. Overdose deaths involving cocaine also increased by 26.5 percent, and overdose deaths involving psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, increased by 34.8 percent.

According to the CDC, measures taken at the national, state, and local level to address the COVID-19 pandemic may have had unintended consequences for substance use and overdose. The CDC continues working with states, territories, tribes, and counties across the country to continue drug overdose surveillance and prevention efforts, including assessing overdose data to understand trends and identifying strategies to inform public health action during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A CDC Health Advisory on the increase in fatal drug overdoses is available here. A press release from the CDC is available here.