CDC: drug overdose deaths soared during pandemic

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According to preliminary data, more than 87,000 drug overdose deaths were reported in the 12-month period ending in September 2020.

WASHINGTON — Drug overdose deaths surged during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, CDC data shows.

Provisional data shows more than 81,000 people died from an overdose in the 12-month period ending in May 2020, according to a December news release from the federal agency. At the time, the CDC said it was “the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.”

New CDC data released this month showed that figure jumped again. More than 87,000 drug overdose deaths were reported in the 12-month period ending in September 2020, according to the federal agency’s data.

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According to that same data, drug overdose deaths surged more than 56% in DC. In the 12-month period ending in September 2020, there were 508 reported overdose deaths in DC. During the previous 12 months, authorities reported 324 overdose deaths in the District.

Virginia saw a nearly 40% increase in drug overdose deaths, according to that CDC dataset. In the 12-month period ending in September 2020, officials reported 2,013 overdose deaths. In the 12 months prior, 1,451 drug overdose deaths were reported.

Maryland’s increase was more modest. The data shows overdose deaths jumped roughly 10%. 2,606 overdose deaths were reported there during the 12-month period ending in September 2020. During the prior 12 months, authorities reported 2,341 overdose deaths.

In the CDC’s December news release, the federal agency said “synthetic opioids (primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl) appear to be the primary driver of the increases in overdose deaths.”

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However, it also noted that the “numbers suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the pandemic.”

Reston Hospital Center chief medical officer Dr. Tom Taghon said his facility treated more overdoses than usual during the pandemic.

“There are probably a couple reasons for that. There’s the stress of the pandemic, the fear of illness, fear of family members getting sick,” he said. “But I think the biggest thing is just the sense of isolation.”

Taghon’s hospital, Reston Hospital Center, partnered with the Fairfax Police Department to host a prescription drug drop off site Saturday. It was an opportunity for people to get rid of unused prescription medications that Taghon says can be dangerous if left in the home.

“It’s just such an easy target for kids who are interested in trying it. As we all know, adolescents sometimes don’t make the best decisions yet, their brains are still forming as well so they can easily make a mistake,” he said. “You don’t want your kids or some other kids who are in your house visiting to have easy access to it.”

The drop-off site was one of many available across the country as part of National Drug Takeback Day. The Reston Hospital Center event was a one-off, but plenty of other sites are open all year long. To find one near you, you can search for permanent drop-off locations at this FDA site.

Home disposal is also possible, according to the DC Health, but care must be taken “to avoid harm to people, pets, and the environment.”

You can find specific suggestions from DC Health here.

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