CDC warns of a 'substantial increase' in fatal drug overdoses coinciding with the Covid-19 pandemic

CDC warns of a 'substantial increase' in fatal drug overdoses coinciding with the Covid-19 pandemic. By Mallika Kallingal and Maggie Fox, CNN

(CNN) -- The US has seen a substantial increase in fatal drug overdoses and set a record for deaths from overdoses in the year that ended in May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday.

The worst of the deaths coincide with closures and other measures taken to control the pandemic, the CDC said in a health alert.

Data from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) indicates that approximately 81,230 drug overdose deaths occurred in the US in that period.

"This represents a worsening of the drug overdose epidemic in the United States and is the largest number of drug overdoses for a 12-month period ever recorded," the CDC alert said.

The most common are overdoses from synthetic opioids such as illicitly manufactured fentanyl. But there's also an increase in deaths from drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine, the CDC added.

And the numbers look grim. "The 12-month count of synthetic opioid deaths increased 38.4% from the 12 months ending in June 2019 compared with the 12 months ending in May 2020," the CDC said.

It noted a 98% increase in synthetic opioid deaths in 10 Western states, coinciding with greater availability of these drugs in that region. "After declining 4.1% from 2017 to 2018, the number of overdose deaths increased 18.2% from the 12 months ending in June 2019 to the 12 months ending in May 2020," it added.

The agency says people should be educated about the risks of using drugs alone.

"These newly released provisional fatal overdose data, coupled with the known disruption to public health, health care, and social services as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and related mitigation measures, highlight the need for essential services to remain accessible for those most at risk of overdose and the need to expand prevention and response activities," the agency added.

Recommendations also include expansion of the use of the overdose drug naloxone. Expanding locations in which overdose prevention education and take-home naloxone are provided, especially in rural areas is important, the CDC said.

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