The number of deaths from drug overdose in the United States hit a dismal record as the nation battled the Covid-19 pandemic at the same time. In 2020, a total of 93,331 Americans died from drug overdoses, an increase of nearly 30% year over year, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told CNBC’s The News with Shepard Smith that she hopes the surge in drug overdoses will not last.
“One of the reasons I’m optimistic … is that one of the factors that contributed to this surge in drug use was isolation and social distancing, and that doesn’t allow you to give Narcan, which reverses overdoses,” said Volkow. “This desperation, which I hope people felt, is slowly being alleviated.”
Volkow added that people will now be able to rebuild social support systems that existed before the Covid pandemic and that health systems can focus again on treating opioid abuse disorders.
The US also had the highest number of deaths from opioid overdoses in 2020, and more than 60% of those deaths were related to fentanyl. Moderator Shepard Smith asked Volkow why fentanyl played such a role in drug overdoses. Volkow stated that it had to do with potency and pricing.
“Fentanyl is a very potent drug, and it’s actually 50 times more potent than heroin, so you need smaller amounts to get the same effects,” said Volkow. “So it is actually a big win for the illicit drug market, and it has been used to actually contaminate other drugs. So when you mix fentanyl with drugs like methamphetamine or cocaine, you make them so much more deadly. “