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Drug-overdose deaths in the U.S. rose by nearly 30% in 2020, synthetic opioids primarily to blame

An increased supply of exceedingly deadly synthetic drugs coupled with pandemic side-effects drove the overdose rate to levels that alarmed experts.

Published: July 14, 2021 12:46pm

Updated: July 14, 2021 1:16pm

Deaths due to drug-overdoses in the United States increased nearly 30% during 2020, a spike largely attributed to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic combined with an increasingly deadly drug supply.

According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, based on newly released data from the federal government and health officials, an estimated 93,331 Americans died from drug overdoses last year. That figure is a significant just from the estimated 72,151 who passed in 2019.

The rising number was driven primarily by an uptick in the supply of fentanyl, a powerful and often deadly synthetic opioid – 50 times more potent than heroin – that has became a major threat to some American communities.

The emotional devastation, anxiety, inability to access care, and solitude brought about by the pandemic pushed the already rising number of overdoses even higher. 

Of the more than 93,000 Americans lost, an estimated 57,550 overdosed on synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl – a more than 50% jump from 2019. However, deaths due to methamphetamine and cocaine also increased. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to issue preliminary life expectancy data next week, a figure that has also been driven down in recent years due to the high volume of drug overdoses. 

Monique Tula, executive director of the National Harm Reduction Coalition, told the Journal that states must respond to the urgent need for public policy intervention in the war on drugs.

She suggests the governments of states and cities use settlement funds that they will receive from high-profile lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors to invest in prevention programs. 

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