The number of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. hit a grim record, as the nation simultaneously battled the Covid-19 pandemic. A total of 93,331 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2020, and that represents nearly a 30% increase from the year before, 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’s hopeful that the spike in drug overdoses will not be lasting.
“One of the reasons why I’m optimistic … is that one of the factors that contributed to that increase in drug use was the isolation, social distancing, and that does not allow you to provide Narcan, which reverses overdoses,” said Volkow. “That despair that people felt, hopefully, will start to be mitigated.”
Volkow added that people will now be able to rebuild social support systems that existed before the Covid pandemic and that healthcare systems will be able to refocus on providing treatment for opioid abuse disorder.
The U.S. also recorded the most deaths from opioid overdoses in 2020, and more than 60% of those deaths involved fentanyl. Host Shepard Smith asked Volkow why fentanyl played such a massive role in the drug overdoses. Volkow explained 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, and so you need smaller volumes to produce the same effect,” Volkow said. “So it actually provides a big profit for the illicit drug market, and it’s been used to actually contaminate other drugs, and so when you mix fentanyl with drugs like methamphetamine or cocaine, you make them so much more lethal.”