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Overdose Deaths Soared during Early Pandemic

July 20, 2022

U.S. drug overdose deaths increased 30 percent, and health disparities across racial and ethnic groups widened early during the pandemic, according to a new CDC report.

Released this week, the latest CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report focuses on the troubling rise of drug overdose deaths and related disparities during 2020.

“Health disparities in overdose rates continue to worsen, particularly among Black and American Indian/Alaska Native persons (AI/AN),” the report said. “Social determinants of health, such as income inequality, exacerbate these inequities.”

Here’s what you need to know:

  • A troubling trend:  The nearly 91,800 U.S. drug overdose deaths during 2020 is about a 30 percent increase from 2019.
  • Disparities:  Overdose death rates rose 44 percent for Black people and 39 percent for AI/AN people. The rate increased by 22 percent among white people and 21 percent among Hispanic people.
  • Causes:  Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs drove the increases. Deaths involving stimulants and methamphetamine often occurred alongside opioid use. The report noted that counties with larger income inequality had higher rates of overdose deaths.
  • Next steps:  Most of the people who died from overdose had no evidence of treatment for substance use. Improving access to treatment for people with a substance use disorder and harm reduction services can save lives.
  • The takeaway:  “Drug overdose death disparities are widening at the same time as a record-breaking 92,000 lives were lost to drug overdoses during 2020. More must be done to prevent overdoses and deaths,” the CDC said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted long-neglected disparities in access to and provision of health care among AI/AN, Black, and Hispanic persons,” the report said. “The findings in this report underscore the increasing impact of the escalating overdose crisis on these populations.”

The full report is available to review online.

HAP continues to advocate for resources that bolster access to behavioral health care across the commonwealth. This includes efforts to grow our behavioral health workforce, promote easier access to mental health services, and remove barriers to care.

Learn more about our behavioral health advocacy.