Another grim reminder that we are foolishly maintaining policies which do not work … i. e. the War on Drugs!
Excerpts from the Article:
Deaths from drug overdoses soared to more than 93,000 last year, a staggering record that reflects the coronavirus pandemic’s toll on efforts to quell the crisis and the continued spread of the synthetic opioid fentanyl in the illegal narcotic supply, the government reported Wednesday.
The death toll jumped by more than 21,000, or nearly 30 percent, from 2019, according to provisional data released by the National Center for Health Statistics, eclipsing the record set that year.
The increase came as no surprise to addiction specialists, drug counselors and policy experts who have watched the steady rise in deaths throughout the pandemic. But that did not make the statistics any less horrifying.
“Every one of those people, somebody loved them,” said Keith Humphreys, a psychiatry professor at Stanford University and an expert on addiction and drug policy. “It’s terrifying. It’s the biggest increase in overdose deaths in the history of the United States, it’s the worst overdose crisis in the history of the United States, and we’re not making progress. It’s really overwhelming.”
The estimated number of overdose deaths reached 93,331 in 2020, according to the new data. Annual final numbers usually differ little from provisional figures like those released Wednesday. More than 900,000 people have died of overdoses since the U.S. drug epidemic began in about 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The National Center for Health Statistics is part of the CDC.
Opioids, primarily illegal fentanyl, continued to drive the death toll, as they have for years. Overdose deaths involving opioids reached 69,710 in 2020, up from 50,963 in 2019, according to the data. Deaths from methamphetamine and cocaine also rose.
Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in an interview that fentanyl has so thoroughly infiltrated the illegal drug supply that 70 percent of cocaine overdose deaths and 50 percent of methamphetamine overdose deaths also involved fentanyl.
In many cases, she said, users are unaware that their drugs are laced with the powerful painkiller, which can halt breathing even if a minute amount is ingested. In other cases, users knowingly take multiple drugs.
“Most of the deaths are from multiple drugs,” she said.
But unlike past years, 2020 brought the added complications of a worldwide viral pandemic. Health-care resources were stretched and redirected toward the emergency. Anti-addiction medication was more difficult to obtain. Stress increased dramatically. Users were more isolated, leading to additional overdoses because other people were not nearby to summon first responders or administer the opioid antidote naloxone, experts said.
“The pandemic has led to increased substance use across the board, as people have sought to manage stress, isolation, boredom, anxiety, depression, unemployment, relationship and child care issues, and housing instability,” Kimberly Sue, medical director of the National Harm Reduction Coalition, an advocacy group that tries to prevent overdose deaths, said in an email.
The most populous state, California, saw an increase in fatalities of 45.9 percent from December 2019 to December 2020, according to the new data. In Vermont, deaths rose by 57.6 percent, the largest increase in the country, followed closely by Kentucky at 53.7 percent.
The White House has insisted that battling the overdose epidemic is an “urgent priority,” laying out a first-year slate of goals that include boosting harm reduction efforts and strengthening recovery supports. Biden’s proposed budget also calls for investing $41 billion in national drug program agencies — about $670 million more than the enacted FY 2021 level — with increased funding for evidence-based treatment and prevention services.
Volkow said the country must continue to remove obstacles that make it difficult for users to gain access to addiction medications such as methadone, buprenorphine and monthly injections of naltrexone.