know is battling addiction or a substance abuse disorder

Overdose deaths in the United States soared in 2020, jumping by nearly 30 percent from the previous year. Experts say the pandemic is likely to blame. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
ACROSS AMERICA — Overdose deaths in the United States soared by an unprecedented 30 percent during the pandemic, new numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics confirm. Only two states, New Hampshire and South Dakota, reported decreased deaths.

The numbers, which recorded deaths between December 2019 and December 2020, show that an estimated 93,331 people died due to overdose in 2020, up from 72,151 in 2019.

Last year’s number marked the highest number of deaths ever recorded in a single year.

Some experts believe the coronavirus pandemic only exacerbated what had already been deemed a crisis in the United States. Lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions forced those with drug addiction into isolation and made treatment harder to get, experts told several news outlets.

“Every one of those people, somebody loved them,” Keith Humphreys, a psychiatry professor at Stanford University and an expert on addiction and drug policy, told The Washington Post. “It’s terrifying. It’s the biggest increase in overdose deaths in the history of the United States, it’s the worst overdose crisis in the history of the United States, and we’re not making progress. It’s really overwhelming.”

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More than 900,000 people have died of overdoses since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Center for Health Statistics is part of the CDC.

In 2020, drug overdoses increased in all but two states: New Hampshire and South Dakota. This year’s numbers are also preliminary — the CDC will provide final estimates in a few months.

Kentucky’s overdose count rose almost 54 percent last year to more than 2,100, up from under 1,400 in 2019. There were also large increases in South Carolina, West Virginia and California. Vermont had the largest jump at almost 58 percent, but its numbers were smaller: 118 to 186.

Fentanyl was involved in more than 60 percent of the overdose deaths last year, The Associated Press reported, citing CDC data.

Also seeing historic increases were deaths from opioid overdoses and deaths from stimulants such as methamphetamine.

“What’s really driving the surge in overdoses is this increasingly poisoned drug supply,” Shannon Monnat, an associate professor of sociology at Syracuse University who researches geographic patterns in overdoses, told The AP. “Nearly all of this increase is fentanyl contamination in some way. Heroin is contaminated. Cocaine is contaminated. Methamphetamine is contaminated.”

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Overdose deaths compounded what was already a tragic year for the United States. By year’s end, more than 375,000 people had died from COVID-19, according to a New York Times database, the largest American mortality event in a century.

In total, the 93,000 deaths cost Americans about 3.5 million years of life, according to a Times analysis. By comparison, coronavirus deaths in 2020 were responsible for about 5.5 million years of life.

Full data on 2020 overdose deaths can be found on the National Center for Health Statistics’ website.

If you or someone you know is battling addiction or a substance abuse disorder, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s national helpline is a free and confidential resource for treatment referrals and other information. The number is 800-662-HELP.

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