Drug overdose deaths climbed to a record high last year, reversing a historic decline in 2018 that President Donald Trump touted as one of his administration’s key accomplishments, Politico reports. There were 70,980 reported overdose deaths in 2019, surpassing the peak of 70,699 deaths in 2017, say preliminary Centers for Disease Control data. It was a 4.6 percent increase from the previous year, a trend that the Trump administration and experts say is continuing as overdose deaths spike amid a pandemic that’s taken a toll on mental health. Thirty-seven states reported an increase in drug overdose deaths or numbers that were unchanged. South Dakota’s 54 percent increase was by far the largest of any state. North Dakota was second with a 31 percent jump, followed by Alaska, up 27 percent.
“It seems that 2019 is the new high for drug overdose deaths,” said Bob Anderson of CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. “Data are still provisional at this point, but the increase in the last few months of 2019 was steep enough to push it over the top by a little more than two hundred deaths.” Trump campaigned on ending the opioid crisis and, along with Congress, invested more than $21 billion in the effort over the past four years. The 2018 decline in overdose deaths was the first drop in nearly 30 years. “It was premature to declare victory in 2018,” said Chuck Ingoglia of the National Council for Behavioral Health. “We still don’t have enough capacity to reach people who need it. Even with the new investments we are still woefully underfunded.” The CDC’s Anderson said last year’s increase was largely driven by synthetic opioids like illicit fentanyl, though deaths involving methamphetamine and cocaine have increased.