As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which experts say left many isolated from addiction treatment as well as family and friends even as jobs dried up and schooling went online, communities in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia saw dramatic increases in opioid-related deaths as clinics struggled to meet the challenges of isolating during the coronavirus pandemic and the still-growing prevalence of the deadly synthetic fentanyl, reports the Washington Post. Fatal opioid overdoses increased 46 percent in the District in 2020, according to city data, despite a pre-pandemic pledge by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser to cut opioid deaths in half between late 2018 and the fall of last year. Virginia recorded 2020 as its deadliest year ever for opioid-related fatalities, according to preliminary data, with a 47 percent increase compared to 2019. Maryland saw a nearly 19 percent jump in fatal overdoses involving opioids, according to preliminary data, with increases of 54.9 percent in Prince George’s County and 25.6 percent in Montgomery County.
Although nationwide 2020 data won’t be available until later this year, health researchers predict at least a 27 percent jump in fatal overdoses compared to 2019, which would be the largest single-year percentage increase in the past two decades. Fentanyl was linked to 94 percent of opioid-related deaths in the District, compared to 91 percent of deaths in 2019. In Virginia, fentanyl was involved in 72.1 percent of all drug overdose deaths, a 71.7 percent increase from 2019; in Maryland, the number of deaths involving fentanyl was 93.1 percent, a 20.7 percent increase. Opioid-related fatalities increased the most for people over 55 and for Hispanic people in Maryland, according to state data. Baltimore City continued to have the highest number of overdose fatalities in the state — 954 in 2020, up from 851 in 2019.