Overdose deaths skyrocketed during the pandemic reaching a record 95,000 last year, new federal projections show.
The COVID-19 pandemic worsened the ongoing opioid crisis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed in a report Wednesday. Overdose deaths increased 31% from January 2020 to January 2021 compared to the previous 12-month period, which took place prior to the coronavirus pandemic. The findings are provisional and may be revised.
These rising deaths highlight the importance of removing barriers to support for people with substance use disorder, Regina LaBelle, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in a news release. Just 10% of the 20 million people who need substance use treatment get it, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.
The prevalence of illicit fentanyl coupled with heightened anxieties and less access to in-person counseling during the pandemic may have driven the rise in drug use and overdose deaths over the past year.
But CDC data show overdose deaths had begun to rise prior to the pandemic, a reversal from declining deaths from late 2017 through the middle of 2019.
Vermont experienced the biggest increase in overdose deaths among the state, with 64% more fatalities. California, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia saw increases of at least 45%. New Hampshire, New Jersey and North Dakota are expected to record fewer deaths.
The American Rescue Plan included $4 billion to improve access to behavioral healthcare services and supports. In April, the President Joe Biden's administration released first-year drug policy priorities, which include expanding access to prevention, treatment and harm reduction support services, as well as reducing the flow of illicit drugs coming into the country.