July 14, 2021 – Ten states are predicted to have at least a 40% rise in drug overdose deaths from the previous 12-month span, according to the CDC: Vermont, Kentucky, South Carolina, West Virginia, Louisiana, California, Tennessee, Nebraska, Arkansas and Virginia.

Volkow, whose agency is part of the National Institutes of Health, calls the data “chilling.” It’s another sign, she said, that both the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid crisis are whipsawing the country with deadly effects. 

“This has been an incredibly uncertain and stressful time for many people, and we are seeing an increase in drug consumption, difficulty in accessing lifesaving treatments for substance use disorders and a tragic rise in overdose deaths,” Volkow said.  She added that people between the ages of 35 and 44 accounted for the highest number of deaths.   While the provisional data doesn’t provide a breakdown by race and ethnicity, other recent studies suggest that at least in Philadelphia and California, the sharpest rise in overdose fatalities last year was among Black residents. And other studies have shown that even before the pandemic, overdose rates in Black communities were rising much faster than among white Americans.

Drug overdoses accounted for roughly one-quarter as many deaths as COVID-19 did in 2020, using the CDC’s number of 375,000 pandemic deaths last year.

As NPR’s Brian Mann reported last month, “If current trends continue, illicit drugs will soon kill more Americans every day than COVID-19.”

Before 2016, more Americans died from heroin overdoses annually than from powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, according to the CDC. But the number of lives lost to overdoses from synthetic opioids has soared since then. 

Roughly 57,000 people died from synthetic opioids (predominantly fentanyl) last year, compared with around 13,000 people who died from heroin overdoses.



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