Between the months of June 2019 and May 2020, an estimated 81,000 people have died due to drug overdoses, a record high. Though the time frame measured extends beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, many health officials believe that the rise of drug overdoses is directly linked to it.
COVID-19 has been documented to have exacerbated substance abuse, addiction, and illnesses, with studies claiming the social and economic problems caused by the pandemic to be key factors in driving overdoses. Other consequences of the pandemic, such as isolation and limited access to shared spaces that help people with substance abuse disorders cope have also contributed to a rise in overdose deaths.
Synthetic opioids like fentanyl have been the primary cause of the increases in overdose deaths and the count of deaths due to synthetic opioids increased 38.4% from June 2019 to May 2020. Deaths involving cocaine, a substance which is sometimes mixed with fentanyl, have also increased by 26.5%. Psychostimulants deaths, namely deaths by methamphetamine overdose, have increased by 34.8%, outpacing cocaine-related deaths.
As COVID-19 cases continue to increase to record highs, the increased rates of overdose can have a great strain on medical facilities and city services, such as in San Francisco, where overdoses have outpaced COVID-19 deaths.
To deal with the rise in overdose deaths, the CDC recommends expanding the use of naloxone, a medication that treats overdoses during emergencies, the expansion of access to treatment for substance abuse disorders, intervening early with individuals with the highest risks of drug overdose, and improvement of overdose outbreaks detection methods.