Record Overdose Deaths in 12-Month Period: CDC

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Drug overdose fatalities are the highest ever recorded in a 12-month period, according to the latest data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The data released by the CDC highlights the 12-month period from May 2019 through May 2020, where just over 80,000 Americans lose their lives to an overdose. The number could still be slightly higher, the CDC notes, considering there are still a few thousand cases under investigation awaiting lengthy toxicity testing reports, Security Magazine reports. 

Some of the states — like Wyoming, Florida, Louisiana, Iowa, Maine —  saw roughly a 40 percent increase in deaths from their numbers in the previous 12 month period, the CDC data shows.  

Nationwide, there was an 18 percent increase in drug overdose deaths. 

This grim milestone is one of worrying proportions, the CDC says, as this is the deadliest 12 month period they’ve ever recorded. Because of this, the CDC has issued a new health advisory citing recommendations to tackle this rise in overdose fatalities. 

Unsurprisingly due to countless reports, the largest death increase period was from March 2020 to May 2020, coinciding with the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic mitigation methods in America, like stay-at-home orders and the closing of workplaces. Even still, the news is startling to some of the most knowledgeable experts in the field.

See Also: COVID-19 Deepens Toll of Opioid Crisis, Webinar Told

“There have been things that have been trending before COVID-19, in terms of increases. And these patterns are historical,” Dr. John McIlveen, of the Oregon Health Authority’s Opioid Treatment Authority, told a local ABC affiliate. 

“It’s the highest that I can remember since being in this field. So it’s tremendously disturbing.”

Oregon saw a 26.4 percent increase in drug overdose deaths in the 12 months period, according to the CDC report, with most of those deaths relating to synthetic opioids, like manufactured fentanyl. 

This is also worrying to advocates, as the necessary information to fully understand the toll that the last 7 months of the pandemic has taken on addiction sufferers won’t be available for some time, and that if this news from March to May is any indication of the trends, aggressive changes need to be made, Security Magazine and Psychiatric Times report. 

Another key finding of the latest CDC report is that methamphetamine and fentanyl abuse is on the rise, and doctors and researchers in Colorado writing for the Psychiatric Times argue that tackling this element of the opioid crisis should be a high priority. 

Colorado saw a 30.4 percent increase in drug overdose deaths in the 12 month period, according to the CDC report. 

The behavioral pharmacology of methamphetamine lends itself to aggression, agitation, and violence,” the authors write. “Hence, these patients are often brought to care by law enforcement for disturbances in the community.” 

Following this, the patients require intensive treatment so they don’t injure themselves or others. Sometimes the side effects of methamphetamine addiction and toxicity involve symptoms that mimic schizophrenia with paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations that can persist even after sobriety. 

All of this can have a profound impact on someone’s life, forcing them into a cycle of hospitalization and potentially acting out criminal behavior, leaving the person unable to return to the life they once had before the addiction, the Psychiatric Times authors write. 

Experts with the Oregon Health Authority share this sentiment. 

“Food insecurity and disruptions in access to safe housing and mental health services have compounded stress from job losses, school and social isolation, and other problems brought on by the pandemic,” Dr. Tom Jeanne, Oregon Health Authority’s deputy state health officer and deputy state epidemiologist, said in a statement to the ABC affiliate. 

“The COVID crisis also interrupted ways people with substance use disorder can get help, such as mental health services, 12-step programs and ambulatory visits,” he concluded.

Because of the growing danger of methamphetamine and fentanyl cited by the CDC, and the skyrocketing rate of opioid deaths, the recommendations in the latest health advisory alert are: 

    • Expand the provision and use of naloxone and overdose prevention education;
    • Expand access to and provision of treatment for substance use disorders;
    • Intervene early with individuals at a high risk for overdose; and, 
    • Improve detection of overdose outbreaks … to facilitate an effective response.

The full CDC report can be accessed here. 

The subsequent CDC health advisory alert can be accessed in full here. 

Additional Reading: U.S. Accuses Walmart of Helping Fuel Opioid Crisis

Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.

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