Drug Overdoses Reached a New High in 2020 – Why?

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Medical services around the world felt extreme pressure dealing with the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Unfortunately, that meant a lot of other severe health issues mounted in its wake, including drug addiction and overdoses.

Alarming Data on Lives Lost

Early in 2021, PBS Newshour reported that “more Americans died from drug overdose in a 12-month period than at any other point in history.” An investigative series examined data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—specifically the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS).

Based on its preliminary data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, NVSS indicates that “drug overdoses were linked to more than 81,000 people’s deaths” between June 2019 and May 2020. Compared to the previous year, this is an 18–20 percent increase in most areas of the U.S.

What concerns addiction science experts, medical communities, and policymakers is the sharp rise of drug overdoses from March 2020 through May 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was building. As we now know, there were many additional peak crisis dates until the end of 2020. Consequently, the speculation is there could be even more overdoses between June 2020 and May 2021.

Iowa and Louisiana demonstrated the most dramatic spike in drug overdose deaths: more than 40 percent higher in 2020 compared to 2019. Here’s a state-by-state breakout by the CDC of overdose cases in our region:


Predicted cases June 2019: 1,370
Predicted cases June 2020: 1,631
Percentage increase in cases: 19.1


Predicted cases June 2019: 733
Predicted cases June 2020: 906
Percentage increase in cases: 23.6


Predicted cases June 2019: 5,050
Predicted cases June 2020: 6,856
Percentage increase in cases: 35.8

South Carolina

Predicted cases June 2019: 1,064
Predicted cases June 2020: 1,462
Percentage increase in cases: 37.4


Predicted cases June 2019: 2,051
Predicted cases June 2020: 2,684
Percentage increase in cases: 30.9

Only four states experienced a decrease in overdose deaths in the same timeframe: Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, and New Hampshire.

Why the Rise of COVID Contributed to Drug Overdoses

The PBS Newshour report cited CDC experts who pointed to an overburdened U.S. healthcare system due to COVID as one primary challenge to addressing the needs of other people with serious medical conditions, including addiction. A notable lack of resources makes it even more challenging for a person with substance use disorder to:

  • Consult with a physical or mental health professional or seek assistance at an urgent care clinic because of visitation restrictions at a facility, limited staff, or concern over transmitting the virus.
  • Receive prompt and effective medication-assisted treatment at clinics because of a lack of protective personal equipment and long lines. This care—often the last option for someone suffering from withdrawal or relapse—was compromised by reduced resources.
  • Have the ability during the pandemic to tend to both basic living needs as well as mental health and addiction treatment.

The CDC Official Health Advisory

As the NVSS numbers became clearer, the CDC declared a national emergency in March 2020. Nevertheless, “drug overdose deaths appear to have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.” According to PBS Newshour, “2,146 people died of opioid overdose in April 2020, followed by 3,388 deaths in May 2020, marking the largest monthly increases since 2015 when the federal government began collecting this data.”

Concern over the June 2020–May 2021 projected data prompted the CDC to release an official health advisory to “alert public health departments, healthcare professionals, first responders, harm reduction organizations, laboratories, and medical examiners/coroners” to the following:

The CDC considers the current state of affairs an “evolving overdose crisis,” and determined the next few months critical for providing proper responses.

Prompt Effective Drug Addiction Treatment at Willingway

According to PBS Newshour, drug overdose deaths have steadily increased since 1999, except for a marginal drop in 2018. For people already suffering with addiction, a lack of immediate professional care due to COVID the puts them at an even greater risk.

Our inpatient residential treatment facility and our outpatient services have remained active during the pandemic crisis by following all CDC-recommended safety protocols. This allows us to care for the health and well-being of our current residents and staff members, as well as accept new clients in need of dedicated individualized treatment to combat drug addiction.

You or a loved one shouldn’t have to put off vital care because of concern about coronavirus. Please use the contact information on this page to learn how you can begin a new life of recovery today.

Looking for addiction treatment centers with detox in Georgia? To find out more about services offered by Willingway contact us 24 hours a day at 888-979-2140, and let us help you get started on the road to recovery.Willingway - Addiction Treatment Experts