The coronavirus pandemic has dominated the public health conversation since its onset over a year ago, but it’s not the only fatal threat Americans are facing.
The opioid epidemic was accelerating at the beginning of last year and caused 81,000 drug overdose deaths in the 12 months ending in May 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the highest ever in that amount of time.
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“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said then-CDC Director Robert Redfield in a release from December. “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.”
Data on the epidemic’s reach and toll is limited, but 37 of the 38 U.S. jurisdictions with available synthetic opioid data reported increases in synthetic opioid-involved overdose deaths, the CDC reported, and 18 of those saw deaths increase by more than half. Ten states reported more than a 98-percent increase in synthetic opioid-involved deaths.
At the top of the list was West Virginia, according to an analysis of available data from the CDC, FBI and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration conducted by Best Life. The state, which has a population of more than 1.7 million, reported more than 2,100 people with illicit substance use disorder, 337 drug-related arrests and more than 61 overdose deaths out of every 100,000.
Delaware, Tennessee, Louisiana and Maryland followed next, rounding out the top five states that the epidemic has hit. Kansas, meanwhile, was the least affected, and while more than 1,800 out of 100,000 residents were diagnosed with illicit substance use disorder, drug-related arrests were down to about 76 while overdose deaths were just under 14.
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