The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a preliminary estimate showing more than 93,000 people died of drug overdoses during the pandemic year of 2020, a shocking new record that was a 29% increase over the previous year, CBS News reports.
“This is a staggering loss of human life,” said Brandon Marshall, a Brown University public health researcher who tracks overdose trends.
The spike in overdose deaths cames as the nation was largely shut down and isolating due to the coronavirus pandemic. The nation is also facing a epidemic of opioid abuse, set in motion by the overprescription of drugs like Oxycontin and Oxycodone. Manufacturers of the drug, like Purdue Pharma, have been fined by federal authorities for misrepresenting the uses and impact of the drug to physicians.
The abuse of prescription opioids has led to a national spike in the use of heroin and fentanyl, far more powerful and dangerous illegal opioids that can kill in small quantities. Developed for use by terminal cancer patients in pain, fentanyl is now mixed with heroin, cocaine and other street drugs in unspecified quantities, which leads to overdose deaths.
“What’s really driving the surge in overdoses is this increasingly poisoned drug supply,” said Shannon Monnat, an associate professor of sociology at Syracuse University who researches geographic patterns in overdoses. “Nearly all of this increase is fentanyl contamination in some way. Heroin is contaminated. Cocaine is contaminated. Methamphetamine is contaminated.”