A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released Wednesday, July 14th documented that in 2020 during the COVID-19 global health pandemic, the United States fatal overdose total reached record highs. The report detailed that American overdose deaths in 2020 reached over 93,000.
The news stories during the last year-and-a-half consistently demonstrated the “epidemic within the pandemic”, and rates of addiction, anxiety, depression, other mental health conditions, and thoughts of suicide rose to record numbers. With this new report from the CDC, there is now another rising number that can be added to the crisis, as the drug overdose death total rose nearly 30% in 2020 from the previous year. That number increase is the largest single-year increase in drug overdose deaths ever recorded. Of those 93,000+ overdose deaths, according to the CDC report, more than 60% were due to the dangerous drug fentanyl.
Of the 50 states that within the United States of America, only two (New Hampshire and South Dakota) did not have overdose death totals that increased from 2019. The 2020 overdose death total of over 93,000 Americans far surpasses the 2019 total of overdose deaths, which claimed the lives of over 72,000 Americans. To say the overdose epidemic, and the overall addiction epidemic, in America is getting worse would be an understatement. Since 1999, nearly one million Americans have lost their lives to an overdose, with millions more impacted by the loss of a loved one.
To say we can do better is not enough. We must do better. Before COVID-19, there was a slight decreased in numbers related to substance use disorder, overdoses, and fatal overdoses throughout the country. Government agencies and health departments began to claim victory over America’s addiction crisis. However, that idea was shattered by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Since March of 2020, COVID-19 has made clear the fragile state of Americans. Throughout the pandemic, those with substance use disorder and mental health conditions reported worsening behaviors and symptoms, individuals that had never reported dealing with drug addiction or mental health concerns began to unravel and become overwhelmed. Practitioners like individual therapists and counselors, psychiatrists, and others began to have waitlists, unable to offer help and services to so many seeking aid. Addiction treatment centers were filled. Emergency rooms and emergency departments in hospitals became overrun and overwhelmed with individuals in crisis. The behavioral healthcare system in America, which hasn’t done a fantastic job of allowing individuals in need to access services, was unable to sustain under the immense weight and pressure of so many people in need of services.
The historic numbers released by the CDC of 2020 overdose deaths only further solidifies the need for America to do better in treating those with addiction, substance use disorders, and mental health conditions. We must begin to truly integrate service offerings, collaborate both internally in large health networks and in an inter-agency way between organizations, creative supportive systems of care between health systems and hospitals, addiction treatment centers and mental health facilities, recovery organizations, community-based organizations, health departments and government agencies, police and first responders, and individual practitioners. We can continue to implement long-term treatment for individuals. We can continue to implement harm reduction strategies that keep people alive. We can continue to implement life-saving medications. We can work to stop the stream of dangerous and illegal drugs like fentanyl from entering the country. We can stop locking up people with substance use disorder and instead get them long-term quality care. We can continue to break the stigma of addiction. We can do all these things, and we must do all these things. We must do better.
We must truly begin to view addiction as a chronic illness that requires long-term treatment, care, and support. We must not just add facilities or beds but ensure that those facilities are operating to the highest standards and are less concerned about filling beds than by doing what is best for the patient. We must truly begin to collaborate and communicate. We must begin telling those suffering and their families and loved ones the truth: That addiction can be overcome and can be managed; that addiction is complex but treatable; and that best outcomes are determined by evidence-based practices that are individualized to the person and their needs, and delivered along a long-term continuum of clinical care and recovery support.
Over the last several years, before COVID-19, addiction had surpassed the annual death totals from car crashes and gun violence. Over the last several years, before COVID-19, addiction was the Number 1 public health crisis in the United States. COVID-19 did not cause these issues, it simply exposed the current addiction crisis and showed that it can only continue to get worse. The lockdowns and isolation of the coronavirus pandemic simply added more fuel to an already blazing fire.
We must do better. We can do better. However, as the recent CDC numbers of overdose deaths dictate, America’s addiction epidemic is continuing to get worse. 93,000 Americans is most than most sports stadiums. We must work together, as professionals and as communities, to turn the tide of Americans dying due to a treatable disease.
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.