Alongside the Covid-19 pandemic, the United States has been battling another crisis for decades - the opioid epidemic. On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary data showing that U.S. drug overdose deaths surged nearly 30 percent to around 92,000 last year, a figure that's expected to rise to more than 93,000.
The increases in 2019 and 2020 have come as a blow after overdose deaths fell for the first time in 20 years in 2018. There were 67,367 deaths from overdoses in the U.S. that year compared to 70,237 in 2017, with the 5.6 percent decline marking the first drop in overdose deaths since 1999.
While the pandemic has been blamed as one of the factors contributing to the overdose surge in 2020, many experts claim the contributing factors were already in place before it started. The crisis undoubtedly disrupted outreach and treatment programs as well as increasing levels of social isolation. However, the main problem is syntethic opioids like fentanyl. Fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and it is accounting for an increasing share of the illegal drug market. It can lead to deaths if other drugs like heroin or cocaine are laced with it.