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Drug Overdose Deaths Surge 30 Percent During 2020

Official: Pandemic created ‘devastating collision’ of health crises

July 14, 2021

The U.S. recorded more than 93,000 drug overdose deaths during 2020, an all-time record and a concerning 30 percent increase from 2019, according to new federal data released today.

The provisional data released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted the nation’s ongoing challenge to address two public health crises as once—as the opioid crisis only has intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Public health officials indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the availability of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, contributed to the staggering increase in overdose deaths last year.

“This is the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, and the largest increase since at least 1999,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse said in a statement to CNN. “These data are chilling. The COVID-19 pandemic created a devastating collision of health crises in America.”

Among the key takeaways from the new federal data:

  • Overall deaths increased:  The nation recorded more than 93,300 predicted overdose deaths. A year prior, the total was just above 72,000 deaths, a 29.4 percent increase
  • Concerning trends:  Opioid and synthetic opioid deaths (primarily fentanyl) increased about 37 percent and 54 percent, respectively last year
  • Pennsylvania total:  The commonwealth recorded 5,278 predicted overdose deaths during 2020, a 17 percent increase from 2019
  • Regional challenges:  The commonwealth saw smaller increases in predicted overdose deaths compared to its counterparts in the southern and western regions of the U.S. California, Kentucky, West Virginia, Louisiana, South Carolina all saw predicted increases above 45 percent during 2020

HAP and Pennsylvania’s hospitals are dedicated to addressing the emerging behavioral health crisis across the commonwealth.

During the past two years, HAP’s Opioid Learning Action Network (LAN) has brought together providers from across the health care community to address the opioid epidemic, focusing on strategies to improve access to medication-assisted treatment and other evidence-based models of care. Through the Opioid LAN, Pennsylvania’s hospitals continue to work together to adopt best practices to prevent overdoses and help patients recover.

In addition to clinical collaboration, HAP continues to advocate for regulatory and legislative initiatives that improve access to opioid use disorder treatment and behavioral health care. For more information, contact Jennifer Jordan, HAP’s vice president, regulatory advocacy.