Drug Overdose Deaths Accelerated during COVID-19 Pandemic

America has been in the grips of an addiction crisis for a very long time. While much of the media has focused on the opioid epidemic, the truth is that is it not only an opioid crisis that America is facing but rather an addiction epidemic. Up until the coronavirus pandemic took hold in early 2020, addiction was the country’s top public health issue needing to be overcome.


However, since the inception of COVID-19, America’s addiction and mental health issues have only gotten worse. The fear, terror, uncertainty, and anxiety of COVID-19 made worse by public health initiatives meant to help stop the spread of the virus such as social distancing and quarantine measures, exacerbated America’s addiction and mental health issues. Additionally, economic hardships, the stress on families, virtual learning, and other pandemic-related issues only have added to the problem.


One of the worst impacts caused by COVID-19 has been the rising rates of drug overdoses and drug overdose deaths that have occurred. According to recent data reported by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),

over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12-month period ending in May 2020 (the latest available data.) That total is the highest number of drug overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.

Those numbers also do not include the rising numbers of non-fatal drug overdoses.


The primary substance appearing to be involved in these overdoses is synthetic opioids, but most of all the drug fentanyl. While America’s opioid crisis for years was driven by prescribed narcotic medications like OxyContin and other legal painkillers or illegal substances like heroin, over the last few years fentanyl began to be imported from foreign countries and used to cut heroin. Now, many individuals with substance use disorders actively seek out fentanyl to use, or it is being used to press into pill form and sold off looking like legal prescription medications on the streets.


However, while the primary substance to blame is fentanyl, it is not the only substance increasing drug overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC’s report also notes that overdose deaths involving cocaine have also increased by 26.5% in the 12-month period ending in May 2020, while overdose deaths involving psychostimulants such as methamphetamine increased by 34.8% over the same time frame.


CDC recommendations to combat fatal overdoses


  • Essential addiction treatment services remain open and accessible for people at the highest risk of overdoses
  • Expanding prevention efforts and response activities
  • Expanding the access, distribution, and use of naloxone (Narcan), as well as expanding overdose prevention education to healthcare professionals, first responded, and other community organizations
  • Expanding awareness about and access to available addiction treatment and other behavioral healthcare resources
  • Early intervention initiatives with individuals at highest risk of overdose
  • Improving detection of overdose outbreaks in local areas and regions to facilitate more effective response by health departments, behavioral healthcare entities, and community organizations


Unfortunately, this report is unsurprising, and cannot be fixed by one organization or the government alone. It will require all stakeholders, including government, state and county health organizations, first responders, hospital systems, addiction treatment centers and rehab, healthcare providers, harm reduction organizations, community-based health organizations, and individual citizens to take steps to overcome this epidemic and begin to see the overdose numbers lessen and more people seek out help for addiction and mental health issues.


If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at [email protected]. For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.

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About the Author

Zach Snitzer

Zach Snitzer is the Corporate Director of Marketing at Maryland Addiction Recovery Center and is responsible for the business development, marketing, branding, public relations and social media strategies of the organization.