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Overdose Deaths Spiking During COVID, Says CDC

“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said the CDC.
FACT CHECKED BY Checkmark Emilia Paluszek
Emergency medic and doctor moving patient to emergency room in hospital

Of the 318,000 American deaths attributed so far to the coronavirus, there are some not counted because they are indirectly related to the disease. But they are no less real. "Over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, according to recent provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)," the agency reported Friday.

"The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard," said CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D. "As we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it's important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences." Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus

Synthetic Opioids, Cocaine and Meth Overdoses Increased

What was the cause of the overdoses? "Synthetic opioids (primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl) appear to be the primary driver of the increases in overdose deaths, increasing 38.4 percent from the 12-month period leading up to June 2019 compared with the 12-month period leading up to May 2020," says the CDC. "Overdose deaths involving cocaine also increased by 26.5 percent. Based upon earlier research, these deaths are likely linked to co-use or contamination of cocaine with illicitly manufactured fentanyl or heroin. Overdose deaths involving psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, increased by 34.8 percent. The number of deaths involving psychostimulants now exceeds the number of cocaine-involved deaths."

"The increase in overdose deaths is concerning." said Deb Houry, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. "CDC's Injury Center continues to help and support communities responding to the evolving overdose crisis. Our priority is to do everything we can to equip people on the ground to save lives in their communities."

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What You Can Do

"Not all overdoses have to end in death," says the CDC. "Everyone has a role to play.

  • Learn about the risks of opioids.
  • Learn about naloxone, its availability, and how to use it.
  • Help people struggling with opioid use disorder to find the right care and treatment.
  • Learn more about CDC's overdose surveillance and prevention efforts in your community

Learn more about what may help if you or someone you care about is increasing drug use during the COVID-19 pandemic."

How to Survive This Pandemic

As for yourself, follow public health fundamentals and help end this surge, no matter where you live—wear a face mask, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, get vaccinated when it becomes available to you, and seek mental health care if needed. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

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