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In the shadows of COVID-19 deaths lies another culprit that has amassed a considerable death toll: drug overdose.

According to the CDC, over 80,000 overdose-related deaths in the U.S. happened in one year ending in May 2020, “the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.” 

The data shows the acceleration of overdose deaths occurred during the coronavirus pandemic. The main drug behind the overdose deaths is fentanyl, which is classified as an opioid. CDC data showed that in the 12 months leading up to May 2020, there was a 38.4% increase in deaths due to fentanyl when compared with the 12-month period leading up to June 2019. 

Fentanyl is not the sole culprit in this matter though, as overdose deaths caused by cocaine also increased by 26.5%. The CDC found “these deaths are likely linked to co-use or contamination of cocaine with illicitly manufactured fentanyl or heroin,” and, “overdose deaths involving psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, increased by 34.8 percent.”

“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,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said

A feeling of uncertainty looms over people’s futures. Several small businesses are being, or are at risk of being, shut down either due to inability to pay rent or because of government stay-at-home mandates. 

K-12 students in several states are also learning online as opposed to being in the classroom. People are choosing to forgo doctor visits for fear of putting themselves in an environment that could expose them to COVID-19. 

Some people have also chosen to not participate in the usual end-of-year holiday celebrations with their families. Life during the pandemic is different from life before it. The CDC Director has attributed the rise in drug overdose deaths to these factors. 

“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” Redfield said.

In an effort to prevent more drug overdose deaths, the CDC has called for doctors, nurses, and first responders to distribute naloxone, which is an antidote that is utilized during a drug overdose situation. They have also called for more information about the treatment of substance abuse disorders being made readily available to the public, such as how and where to access treatment.

Written ByLinn Win

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