While over 300,000 Americans and counting have died from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, another public-health disaster is taking more lives than ever before: drug overdoses.
Overdose deaths in 2019 were significantly higher than 2018, jumping from 67,367 deaths in 2018 to 70,630 overdose deaths in 2019, marking a nearly 5 percent increase, according to a new report issued Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If that’s not grim enough, a separate health alert published by the CDC this week reports a “concerning acceleration” in overdose deaths for 2020, which provisional data show is on track to be the deadliest year for U.S. drug overdose deaths in recorded history. Complete data for 2020 is not expected to be available until some time next year.
Now the U.S. may be entering a fourth wave, or something more like a tsunami. Illicit fentanyl and stimulants such as meth and cocaine now account for the bulk of overdose deaths. From 2012 through 2019, the rate of overdose deaths involving cocaine increased more than three-fold, and stimulants like methamphetamine increased more than six-fold, according to the CDC. Trends in stimulant overdoses are also on track to worsen during 2020. Deaths involving cocaine increased by 26.5 percent from June 2019 to May 2020, while deaths involving stimulants such as meth increased by 34.8 percent during the same period.