The United States recorded over 81,000 drug overdose deaths in a 12-month stretch, the worst year-long total reported in American history.
The U.S. has long been struggling to combat the opioid epidemic, but experts say that the total between May 2019 and May 2020, published in a CDC report last week, can be at least partially attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.
Specifically, experts attribute the total to the pandemic’s disruption of in-person treatment and recovery when it began to spread nationwide in March. Americans who suffered from drug use were also increasingly likely to use drugs alone once they entered quarantine and were kept away from others, upping the risk that an overdose would prove fatal since nobody was available to contact already-burdened emergency services, the CDC report outlines.
Experts also said that already-lethal drugs themselves have become even more dangerous; since the pandemic caused supply problems for cartels and dealers, they mixed extremely potent drugs like fentanyl into heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.
“I don’t think there are a bunch of new people who suddenly started using drugs because of COVID. If anything, I think the supply of people who are already using drugs is more contaminated,” Shannon Monnant, a researcher at Syracuse University who focuses on drug overdoses, told the Associated Press.
In addition to worsening the drug crisis in the U.S., the pandemic has already been the leading factor behind the dramatic spike in deaths this year. Over 3 million Americans are projected to have lost their lives before 2021, resulting in more than 400,000 Americans dying this year compared to last and making 2020 the deadliest year in American history.
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