'Terrifying': 2020 drug overdoses jump 30%, hit record 93,000 deaths

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Deaths from drug overdoses hit a record 93,000 in 2020, a nearly 30 percent jump from the prior year, according to a report from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

The provisional data accounts for U.S. deaths attributed to drug overdoses from November 2019 to November 2020. Over 21,000 more overdose deaths were reported in 2020 than in 2019, with an increase in overdose deaths reported in every state except South Dakota. Only Massachusetts, New Jersey and Alaska saw jumps less than 5 percent.

"It's terrifying," Keith Humphreys, PhD, psychiatry professor at Stanford (Calif.) University and expert on addiction and drug policy, told The Washington Post. "It's the biggest increase in overdose deaths in the history of the U.S., it's the worst overdose crisis in the history of the U.S., and we're not making progress."

The estimated number of overdose deaths reached 93,331 in 2020, according to the new data. More than 900,000 people have died of overdoses since the U.S. drug epidemic began about 1999, according to the CDC.  

Opioids, primarily illegal fentanyl, account for the majority of deaths, with overdose deaths involving opioids reaching 69,710 in 2020, up from 50,963 in 2019.  

The pandemic has stretched healthcare resources thin, complicating the drug epidemic. In 2020, anti-addiction medication was harder to obtain and users were more isolated, leading to additional overdoses because other people weren't nearby to call first responders or give naloxone, experts told the Post.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, "we took our eye off the opioid epidemic," said Tami Mark, PhD, health economist and senior fellow at think tank RTI International. "When we weren't looking, it got horribly worse."

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