America’s Overdose Crisis Got Much Worse During the Pandemic

Family members of people who have died from overdosing on opioids mark International Overdose Awareness Day on August 21, 2021, in Binghamton, New York. Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

For the first time, America has experienced more than 100,000 drug overdoses in a 12-month period.

Provisional data published by the Centers for Disease Control on Wednesday shows that a total of 100,306 Americans died of overdoses from all drugs, including prescriptions, between May 2020 and April 2021 — which comes out to 275 per day. As the New York Times notes, the overall number is higher than all deaths from guns and car accidents combined. And it’s a 28.5 percent bump from the already extremely high levels of the prior 12 months, signaling what many on the front lines of the overdose crisis had already reported: The pandemic badly exacerbated it. Lockdowns meant that people struggling with addiction could not access their usual means of support; substance-misuse treatment was sometimes sidelined in favor of coronavirus patients; rates of anxiety and depression skyrocketed; and cheap street drugs proliferated.

The rise of fentanyl in the last few years has been a particularly deadly development in the country’s overdose crisis. Synthetic opioids, which include fentanyl, accounted for 64 percent of all overdose deaths. The drug is often mixed with other substances, sometimes unbeknownst to users.

But other overdose deaths also ticked upward, including those caused by cocaine and prescription drugs. Methamphetamine overdoses soared by 48 percent and accounted for a quarter of all drug deaths.

About 70 percent of the deaths occurred among men between the ages of 25 and 54.

America’s Overdose Crisis Got Much Worse During the Pandemic