Drug overdose deaths hit record high

More than 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses between May 2020 and April 2021—the most ever recorded in a single year—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of drug overdose deaths was up almost 30% from the 78,000 deaths in the prior year, and was nearly three times that of traffic accident deaths and twice that of gun deaths during the same period.

Most of the deaths were due to opioids, fueled by the powerful drug fentanyl, which is often added to illegal drugs to enhance their potency.

Michael Barnett, assistant professor of health policy and management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, commented on the deaths in a November 18, 2021 story on CBS News. “The pandemic has been in many ways a perfect storm,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do to expand access to lifesaving treatments like naloxone or buprenorphine, which can really save lives in addiction, but are not widely available for people that need them.”

Barnett was also quoted on the drug overdose problem in a November 10, 2021 Newsweek article. He noted that the pandemic likely accelerated drug addiction. “People face enormous financial difficulties, mass unemployment, isolation, the fear and anxiety and uncertainty of the pandemic itself,” he said. “All of those things can test anyone’s resilience to addiction.”

He estimated that “hundreds of billions” of dollars will be needed to stem the overdose crisis in the coming years.

Listen to the CBS News article: Overdose deaths hit record high during pandemic

Read the Newsweek article: 93,000 Died From Opioid Overdoses in 2020, Hundreds of Billions of Dollars Needed to Fix It

Learn more

A crisis on top of a crisis: COVID-19 and the opioid epidemic (Harvard Chan School feature)