The opioid epidemic has been a problem in the United States for decades. However, when the Covid pandemic hit in 2020, the opioid crisis saw shattering numbers. In 2019, the number of overdose deaths per year increased from 2018 by 4.6 percent. 

But Covid led to a jump in overdose deaths – over 93,000 people lost their lives to addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control, that is an almost 30 percent increase or over 21,000 more people than in 2019.


Why are People Misusing Drugs During the Covid-19 Pandemic?

Social isolation and the unknown of the pandemic, while difficult for everyone, can be extremely difficult for individuals in recovery and those battling a substance use disorder. 

The Addiction Policy Forum (APF) surveyed 1,079 people in April and May of 2020. All the participants were struggling with substance use disorders when the pandemic hit. Of the participants, 20 percent said their’s or family member’s substance misuse has worsened due to Covid-19. 

Over 34 percent of individuals had to wait longer for treatment due to treatment centers closing or offering limited access. In addition, 14 percent said they could not obtain needed treatment.

The mental health challenges from the Covid-19 pandemic also increased the use of drugs or alcohol. Three-quarters of participants in the APF survey also reported emotional changes since Covid-19 started. 

These changes include:

  • Worry – 62 percent
  • Sadness – 51 percent
  • Loneliness – 42 percent

These emotions increase a person’s risk of relapsing. And, because of Covid-19, peer support from 12-step meetings and other groups became more difficult. However, if you struggle with substance misuse or mental health issues, it is crucial to seek help.

Grim Overdose Death Records: How Many Overdose Deaths in 2020

Sadly, 2020 set multiple overdose death records. Not only did the United States experience the most overdose deaths per year, but the most overdose deaths were also seen from:

  • Opioids – Deaths in 2019 were 49,860, which increased to 69,710 deaths in 2020.
  • Stimulants such as methamphetamine
  • Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl – Killed 36,359 people in 2019 but in 2020 killed 57,550 people.

Over 375,000 people died in 2020 due to Covid. This is the largest mortality event in a century. According to a New York Times analysis, the over 93,000 overdose deaths in America are equivalent to losing 3.5 million years of life. In comparison, the number of deaths in 2020 because of Covid equals 5.5 million years of life.

How Many Overdose Deaths Per Year from 2019 to 2020

Overdose deaths increased for decades until 2018 saw a slight decrease in fatalities. However, in 2019 overdose deaths rose again. While the first three months of 2020 saw an increase from the year before, the most significant rise in overdose deaths was in the months following lockdown. 

The following breaks down how many overdose deaths per year increased from 2019 to 2020.

  • January – 1,018 more overdose deaths 
  • February – 1,249 more overdose deaths 
  • March – 1,363 more overdose deaths 
  • April – 2,360 more overdose deaths 
  • May – the largest increase of the year  with 3,597 more overdose deaths
  • June – 2,373 more overdose deaths
  • July – 2,371 more overdose deaths
  • August – 2,078 more overdose deaths
  • September – 1,621 more overdose deaths
  • October – 1,229 more overdose deaths
  • November – 1,122 more overdose deaths
  • December – 1,304 more overdose deaths

While overdose death rates were already rising in 2020, Regina Labelle, the acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, says Covid didn’t help and likely exacerbated overdose deaths. 

Why is Covid Causing a Surge in Overdose Deaths?

Overdose deaths are on the rise, and Covid-19 is causing this surge. For instance, the pandemic has led to an increase in mental health issues. Mental health issues are often triggered by isolation. And, unfortunately, 2020 also saw a rise in suicide attempts.  

On top of it all, people were afraid of catching Covid-19 and possibly dying. For this reason, many people delayed seeking help which led to worsening symptoms. Furthermore, lockdowns also meant treatment centers saw a drop in people seeking help. 

Covid’s Impact on Substance Misuse

The impact of Covid-19 isn’t affecting just those with substance use disorders. We were all fearful of the unknown surrounding Covid-19. 

two men discussing the impact of Covid-19 on drug overdose

Will our families stay safe? Will I lose my house? How am I going to pay bills and buy food? As a result of these uncertainties, a growing number of people are turning to drugs and alcohol to cope.  

All group gatherings came to a halt with Covid-19 restrictions. This meant no church on Sundays, eating out with the family, or concerts with friends. But above all, it meant no more 12-step and recovery support meetings. 

Maintaining lifelong recovery is easier with a support group. This is the reason people attend these meetings. Addiction is a disease of isolation, so when these in-person meetings stopped, the isolation from their support left people vulnerable to relapse. 

The Overdose Detection Mapping Program’s report on Covid’s impact on substance misuse shows over 40 states had higher opioid-related deaths. The report also shows:

  • An increase of over 17% in overdoses from March 19 to May 19, 2020
  • May alone shows a 42% increase in nationwide overdoses
  • A 20% spike in weekly overdoses since the beginning of Covid-19

Opioids are the Leading Cause of Overdose Deaths

Opioids are the leading cause of overdose deaths. In 2020, opioids led the nation in how many overdose deaths per year – 69,710 people died from consuming opioids. 

Opioids include:

  • Heroin
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Methadone
  • Oxycontin
  • Vicodin

While opioids are prescribed for moderate to severe pain, they can cause euphoria. This euphoria is why people misuse opioids and eventually buy illicit opioids off the street. However, opioids are sedatives and can cause breathing difficulties and even death.

Why Are Opioids So Dangerous?

Opioids are effective at controlling acute pain. And, when taken as prescribed, opioids are generally safe. However, there are risks even when taken correctly, such as substance misuse and addiction.

At low doses, users may feel sleepy. However, higher doses can slow breathing and heart rate. Furthermore, the euphoria from opioids can cause people to misuse the drug. As a result of this misuse, people can quickly develop an opioid use disorder. 

Opioids work by binding to and activating the opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord. By blocking these receptors, it also blocks the feeling of pain. However, the body builds a tolerance over time which means the user has to consume more to achieve the same effects. 

This becomes dangerous when people need more than what is being prescribed. When this happens, people often turn to illicit opioids. But, these drugs may be combined with other drugs, which increase the risk of overdose and death.

Why is Fentanyl Raising the Rates in How Many Overdose Deaths Per Year?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. It is similar to morphine, but it is 50 to 100 times stronger. It is typically used for severe pain after surgery. However, fentanyl is also made illegally. 

Furthermore, fentanyl is the leading cause of overdose deaths in America. For example, in 2010, fentanyl was responsible for 14.3 percent of overdose deaths. By 2017, it caused 59 percent of overdose deaths.

Because it takes a tiny amount of fentanyl to get high and it’s cheap, many dealers are mixing it with drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines. This increases the risk of overdose and death because mixing two potent opioids increases the risk of overdose and death. 

What are the Signs of Opioid Use?

An opioid use disorder or OUD is the inability to stop using opioids, although the drug disrupts all aspects of life. When individuals become physically dependant on opioids, they will develop cravings and withdrawal symptoms without the drug. 

Individuals with an OUD often spend their days locating, buying, and consuming opioids. These behaviors interfere with work, school, and relationships. While a person misusing opioids may not show signs right away, it becomes harder to hide over time.

Common signs of opioid misuse include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent flu-like symptoms
  • Itchy skin
  • Lack of motivation
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety
  • Hyperactivity
  • Confusion
  • Isolation
  • Lack of interest in things once enjoyed
  • Financial issues
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Cravings

Withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on factors such as length of misuse, the amount misused, multi-drug use, and co-occurring mental disorders. Opioid withdrawal can have severe withdrawal symptoms, which can lead to serious health complications and even death. 

Don’t Be Another Statistic, Get Help at Sana Lake Recovery 

If you or someone you love is struggling with a substance use disorder, it is crucial to seek help. A substance use disorder, especially OUD, can quickly get out of hand and even lead to an overdose death.

At Sana Lake, we understand the unique challenges of recovery during the Covid-19 pandemic. We offer inpatient treatment and a variety of outpatient programs to meet your needs. Contact us today and find out how we can help you live a life free from drugs and alcohol.