Why Did Overdose Deaths Increase Horrifically During the COVID Pandemic?

Why Did Overdose Deaths Increase Horrifically During the COVID Pandemic?

Joanna Conti
Originally Posted:
Jul 16, 2021


The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that 93,321 Americans fatally overdosed during 2020, an almost 30% increase from 2019: 

National Drug Overdose Deaths


Large numbers like 93,321 have a tendency to numb.  But every single one of these men, women and children was a mother’s immensely-loved child, a cherished and totally unique individual with unlimited potential whose death caused overwhelming grief. 

Brenda Zane, founder of the parent’s support group The Stream, communicates how heartbreaking every single one of these deaths is:

“In the past few months, three of our moms have lost their precious babies. I’ve wrestled deeply with sharing this because it’s traumatizing, and yet it’s truth. It’s the world we live in and I’ve vowed to always, always be honest with you, even when it’s painful.


When I received the news of these losses it took my breath away, not because I didn’t think it would happen, but because it happens and the world keeps right on going. The Amazon guy just dropped off my package, my wifi still sucks and the dogs need to get walked. Countries are still warring with each other and politicians are bickering about who-knows-what.


It’s inconceivable that these bright lights, these beautiful souls with so much potential have ceased to be and the world still spins. Our babies, soccer players, artists, math-haters, animal lovers, chore-forgetters. They are not a statistic.”

Why did overdose deaths, which appeared to have plateaued in 2018 and 2019, increase so drastically during the pandemic?

To start with, the threat of getting sick or dying from the coronavirus, widespread job losses, sudden 24/7 child care responsibilities, and an election that threatened to split the country apart caused levels of depression and anxiety among American adults to more than triple during the first year of the pandemic:

Adults Reporting Symptoms of Depression or Anxiety


Additionally, the closing of workplaces, gyms, and most other outside activities isolated individuals in their homes, which can be particularly dangerous for individuals wrestling with addiction, as these comments from individuals in rehabs during the pandemic show:

Comments of individuals in addiction treatment

Finally, the widespread closing of recovery support meetings was very detrimental to people who were struggling to not use.

In response, many individuals turned to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.  And when they did, they often unknowingly were given drugs that were much more potent than ever before.  Why?  Because the drug cartels massively expanded the production of synthetic fentanyl and carfentanil due to pandemic-related problems getting opium poppy across the borders. 

Five to 50 times more powerful than heroin, tiny amounts of fentanyl and carfentanil can kill.  And kill they did. The CDC has estimated that 60% of all overdose deaths in the 2020 were due to one of these two synthetic opioids:

Provisional Monthly Drug Overdose Deaths by Drug


Making matters even worse, individuals often don’t realize that the drugs they are buying has changed.  According to Dr. Andrew Huhn, Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, "Many patients entering Baltimore-area rehabs tell us they are using heroin. However, when we test their urine, 99% of the time we find fentanyl". 

And not only is fentanyl replacing heroin on the streets, it’s being used in fake prescription pills and added to cocaine and meth.  

What can a worried parent do in these
extraordinarily-perilous times?

Here are four ideas:

  • Educate your kids that “one pill kills”. 

  • Keep multiple doses of Narcan with you at all times, even if you’re positive that your child would never fool around with drugs.

  • Check on your kids after they return from parties to make sure they are sleeping peacefully.

  • If your child has become addicted to drugs or alcohol, take advantage of every opportunity to convince them to enter treatment and choose a rehab with excellent success rates

Please help us spread the word about the prevalence and lethality of fentanyl so we don't lose any more cherished children, spouses and friends.


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