The US drug overdose death toll climbed during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC data shows that more than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in the 12-month period that started in October 2019 and ended in September 2020 — the most recent statistics, which were published on Wednesday.
Overall, the preliminary data found a 29 percent increase in overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending in September 2020, when compared to the year period ending in September 2019.
The largest increases in drug overdose deaths occurred in the 12-month periods that ended in April and May 2020, months early in the pandemic when many states had some form of shutdown in place and more workers lost jobs.
The National Center for Health Statistics collects the data based on death records from fatalities within the 50 states and Washington, D.C. But the CDC notes that the actual number of deaths is likely larger as death records sometimes list the cause of death as pending investigation.
The surge in drug overdose deaths represents a setback after overdose fatalities fell slightly in 2018 for the first time in decades. The Trump administration had aimed to curtail the number of overdose deaths amid the opioid epidemic, spending billions on providing access to medications for opioid addiction.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has overshadowed the issue, drawing resources away from addressing drug use and toward the pandemic.
The preliminary data on drug overdose deaths come after a study published earlier this year determined that emergency department visits for overdoses, mental health conditions and suicide attempts increased in 2020 when compared to 2019 numbers.
In particular, opioid overdoses rose significantly from mid-March to October 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019.
Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said last week at a conference that the jump in drug overdose deaths is “predominantly driven by fentanyl … among Black Americans.”