| January 26, 2021

Opioid fatalities increase amidst covid pandemic

Overdose fatalities are increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Find out what’s driving the increase and how you can help.

In Erie County, New York, 85 people died from overdoses during the first four months of 2020, a 100% increase from the same period last year. The increase in opioid fatalities is not an isolated incident; overdose deaths have been rising nationwide.

The New York Times has referred to the COVID-19 pandemic as a “national relapse trigger,” resulting in an acceleration of overdose deaths during the pandemic.

Opioid Fatalities Increasing During Pandemic

The primary driver of the increases in overdose deaths appears to be synthetic opioids, such as illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Overdose deaths increased 38.4% from the 12 months leading up to June 2019 compared with the 12 months leading up to May 2020.

  • 37 of 38 U.S. jurisdictions reported increases in synthetic opioid-involved overdose deaths.
  • 18 of these jurisdictions reported fatality increases greater than 50%.
  • 10 western states reported over a 98% increase in synthetic opioid-involved deaths.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid often mixed with heroin and/ or cocaine as a combination product – with or without the user’s knowledge – to increase its euphoric effects.

Overdose deaths involving cocaine also increased by 26.5%, likely linked to co-use or contamination of cocaine with illicitly manufactured fentanyl or heroin.

Overdose deaths involving psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, increased by 34.8%, exceeding the number of cocaine-involved deaths.

“The increase in overdose deaths is concerning,” said Deb Houry, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “CDC’s Injury Center continues to help and support communities responding to the evolving overdose crisis. Our priority is to do everything we can to equip people on the ground to save lives in their communities.”

Why is the Pandemic Worsening the Opioid Epidemic?

From the pandemic’s negative effect on mental health to decreased access to treatment, multiple factors are contributing to the worsening opioid epidemic.

“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D. “As we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it’s important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences.”

Not All Overdoses are Fatal

Not all overdoses have to end in death. According to the CDC, you can help prevent opioid fatalities:

  • Learn about the risks of opioids.
  • Learn about naloxone, its availability, and how to use it.
  • Help people struggling with opioid use disorder to find the right care and treatment.
  • Learn more about CDC’s overdose surveillance and prevention efforts in your community
  • Learn more about what may help if you or someone you care about is increasing drug use during the COVID-19 pandemic.


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