U.S. Drug Overdoses Reached Record High amid Pandemic Shutdowns

 Amid a pandemic that has persisted for nearly a year and a half, reported U.S. drug overdose deaths reached a new high of 96,779 in the 12-month period that concluded in March 2021.

From March 2020 to March 2021, the country experienced a surge of 29.6 percent in drug overdose fatalities, predominantly caused by opioids and secondarily caused by synthetic opioids excluding methadone, according to data published by the CDC. Before the results were released, the agency projected over 99,000 reported drug overdose deaths for this period.

This past July, preliminary data from the CDC revealed that more than 93,000 people in the United States died of drug overdoses in 2020, a spike of 30 percent from 2019, when the CDC reported that 71,000 people died of an overdose.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said then that the statistics were “chilling,” and that the pandemic “created a devastating collision of health crises in America.”

Almost all 50 states saw their drug overdose death count rise significantly, with the exception of New Hampshire, New Jersey, and South Dakota, which had declines in this number. South Dakota, a Republican-controlled states that did not impose lockdowns as a COVID mitigation measure under the auspices of Governor Kristi Noem, saw a drop of 16.3 percent in its reported drug overdose deaths, the highest of any state.

Meanwhile, Vermont had the steepest increase in drug overdose deaths of any state, climbing 85.1 percent from March 2020 to March 2021.

“It is important to remember that behind these devastating numbers are families, friends, and community members who are grieving the loss of loved ones,” Regina LaBelle, acting director of the Executive Office of the President Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in a statement obtained by CNN. She also implored Congress to pass President Biden’s budget plan which would expand substance abuse prevention and treatment in the nation.

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