Drug deaths in America, which fell for the first time in 25 years in 2018, rose to record numbers in 2019 and are continuing to climb, a resurgence that is being complicated and perhaps worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.
Nearly 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, according to preliminary data released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — an increase of 5 percent from 2018. Deaths from drug overdoses remain higher than the peak yearly death totals ever recorded for car accidents, guns or AIDS, and their acceleration in recent years has pushed down overall life expectancy in the United States.
Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. reached a record last year
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
It looks as if 2020 will be even worse. Drug deaths have risen an average of 13 percent so far this year over last year, according to mortality data from local and state governments collected by The New York Times, covering 40 percent of the U.S. population. If this trend continues for the rest of the year, it will be the sharpest increase in annual drug deaths since 2016, when a class of synthetic opioids known as fentanyls first made significant inroads in the country’s illicit drug supply.
The 2018 decline was largely explained by reductions in deaths from prescription opioid medications, the drugs that started the nation’s addiction epidemic back in the 1990s. But those declines appear to have been overrun by continued increases in deaths from illicit drugs, particularly methamphetamine, cocaine and fentanyl.
Categories are not mutually exclusive. Deaths often involve multiple drugs. A small portion of the increase in deaths attributable to a specific drug may be due to improved cause-of-death reporting.·Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
President Trump made much of the slight decrease in overdose deaths in 2018, pointing to his administration’s efforts to expand addiction treatment and restrict the drug supply. Mr. Trump and Congress have provided several billion dollars in grants to states since 2017 for treatment, prevention and recovery services, expanding access to buprenorphine treatment in particular. But at the same time, the administration has continued fighting in court to overturn the Affordable Care Act, a law that has allowed states to expand Medicaid and provide free addiction treatment to low-income adults.
Many local officials have also worked hard to reduce drug use, prevent overdose deaths and help get more drug users into recovery. Naloxone, an overdose-reversing medication, has been broadly distributed in recent years. Syringe exchange programs have been expanded, as well as coverage of addiction treatment through state Medicaid programs. States have also moved to limit prescriptions of opioid medications. But drug…