Opioid Overdose Deaths Hit New Highs in 2020

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With each passing year since 2000, deaths caused by opioid overdose have continued to rise in the United States. In 2010, more than 20,000 people lost their lives to the opioid epidemic. That number jumped to 47,000 by 2017. The latest data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that number has nearly doubled in the last 12 months.

From May 2019 to 2020, over 81,000 people died due to drug overdoses. This represents the highest number of overdose-related deaths ever recorded in a single year.

What’s Causing an Acceleration in Opioid Overdose Deaths?

Sadly, overdose deaths were already on the rise in the months leading up to 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic played the most significant role in contributing to the country’s deadliest 12-month period for drug overdose fatalities. The data presented only represents deaths up to May 2020 — the early part of the pandemic. Overdoses may have risen even further due to COVID-19’s compounding effects on addiction.

Some of the possible reasons for the rise in opioid overdose deaths include:

Fear and Stress

After states began imposing lockdowns in early March, there was a significant spike in calls to mental health helplines. Fear and stress started to invade everyday life, caused by COVID-19 and other factors such as job loss and financial difficulties.

Stress is a major contributing factor that can lead at-risk people further down the path of addiction and potential overdose.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, people trying to recover from opioid addiction lost face-to-face interactions with their vital support systems. Whether it’s friends and family, group therapy or addiction counselors, these support systems encourage those struggling with addiction. Without this positive reinforcement during the pandemic, many people slipped into old habits.

Loss of Treatment

People suffering from drug addiction also faced disruption to vital treatment to remain sober or survive in 2020. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) helps many people in recovery face the painful withdrawal symptoms and cravings that can lead to relapse. The pandemic limited access to this vital resource.

Moving Forward

With the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Americans have every reason to hope that life will go back to normal. Unfortunately, until then, the possibility of more fatal drug overdoses looms. The CDC and other federal agencies understand the seriousness of this unintended consequence of the pandemic and have recommended major health advisories to help tackle the spike in deaths:

  • Awareness along with overdose prevention education to public health departments, doctors, first responders, harm reduction organizations and community members
  • Expanded distribution and use of naloxone to treat overdose in an emergency
  • Early intervention with individuals at high risk for overdose
  • Improved detection of overdose outbreaks

You Don’t Have to Battle Opioid Addiction Alone

Although the nation is still battling the COVID-19 pandemic, you do not have to deal with your opioid addiction alone. Help is available at BAART Programs. For over four decades, we’ve helped people overcome opioid use disorder and find the support they need for real change. Contact us today to learn more about our life-saving services.


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