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CDC: Overdose deaths surged during pandemic

More than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in the 12-month period that ended in September 2020, according to preliminary CDC data, which indicate that the U.S. drug overdose mortality rate increased last year.

After falling slightly in 2018 for the first time in decades, overdose deaths began increasing again in the months just before the COVID-19 pandemic. The largest increase in overdose deaths occurred in April and May of 2020, when strict lockdown measures were in effect and job losses were growing. In addition, many drug treatment centers closed during that time, and drop-in centers that offer support, clean syringes, and naloxone cut back services, with many still not fully operational again.

The preliminary data show a 29% increase in overdose deaths from October 2019 through September 2020, compared with the previous 12-month period. The surge was fueled primarily by illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, though many fatal overdoses also involved stimulant drugs, especially methamphetamine. A number of organizations that work on addiction and other health issues recently called on HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to “act with urgency” and end the rule that requires physicians to undergo a day of training before receiving federal permission to prescribe buprenorphine.

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