Increase in Fatal Drug Overdoses Across the United States Driven by Synthetic Opioids Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic

CDC Health Alert Network (HAN) Advisory

A new CDC Health Alert Network Advisory shows approximately 81,230 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12-month period ending in May 2020—the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.

The largest increases were estimated in March, April, and May of 2020, revealing a concerning acceleration of overdose deaths during the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Increases are primarily driven by synthetic opioids like illicitly manufactured fentanyl, but overdose deaths involving psychostimulants, including methamphetamines, have also increased and now exceed the number of cocaine-involved deaths. The health advisory highlights recommendations for medical and public health professionals, first responders, harm reduction organizations, and other community partners, which can be applied based on community needs and characteristics:

• Expand distribution and use of naloxone and overdose prevention education.
• Expand awareness about and access to and availability of treatment for substance use disorders.
• Intervene early with individuals at highest risk for overdose.
• Improve detection of overdose outbreaks to facilitate more effective response.


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