Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the number of deaths from drug overdose in the U.S. rose 4.6 percent in 2019 after falling for the first time in three decades in 2018.
While the data won’t be finalized until later this year, it indicates that 70,980 people in the country died from drug overdoes in 2019, up from 67,850 in 2018. The new number also surpasses 2017’s mark, the previous peak.
The dip in fatal drug overdoses in 2018 was lauded by the Trump administration, but according to the CDC, the District of Columbia and 18 states all experienced increases of at least 10 percent in 2019. The increase in overdose deaths can be pinned heavily on synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, but deaths from methamphetamine and cocaine also rose.
Cocaine and psychostimulants such as meth accounted for 45.4 percent of all overdose deaths in 2019, up from 34.7 percent in 2017.
“We have called it the opioid crisis, but really it’s the addiction crisis in the U.S.,” Michael Barnett, assistant professor of health policy and management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told U.S. News & World Report. “Overdoses are a late-stage end result of a complex brew of factors that lead to people being addicted and using substances that predispose them to overdose.”
Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told the publication that the increase in deaths from stimulants like meth and cocaine is worrisome because unlike opioid addiction, there isn’t the same level of strong evidence-based treatments to help people overcome those addictions.
“The ability to provide naloxone to people that have overdosed has saved so many lives but that is for opioids,” Volkow explained.
Volkow also said that the current coronavirus pandemic could make the country’s drug addiction epidemic worse.
“We have two things colliding: the stress of the uncertainty of what’s going to happen with COVID[-19], and also the uncertainty of what’s going to happen to you, [with high levels of] unemployment, or if you are studying, what will happen to your education,” Volkow said. “And then the social distancing and isolation that makes the whole process much worse.”
In the first four months of 2020, fatal drug overdoses were up 11.4 percent compared to 2019.