Raises Red Flag that COVID-19 Likely Exacerbating the Already Devastating Overdose Crisis

New York, NY – In response to new preliminary CDC data showing an increase in drug overdose deaths in a 12-month period, including a sharp increase during the first three months of 2020, Jules Netherland, PhD, Managing Director of the Department of Research & Academic Engagement for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), released the following statement:
 
“The new CDC data confirms our fears that COVID-19 is exacerbating the already devastating overdose crisis in the United States. While these data are only a snapshot representing the first few weeks of the COVID-19 related shut downs, they align with other reports that overdose deaths are on the rise, likely due, in part, to isolation, disruption in the drug supply, and reduced access to harm reduction and treatment supports.
 
Preliminary data reported through March 2020 show an alarming nationwide increase in numbers of overdoses compared to the same data and time period last year: February and March 2020 reported 12-month overdose deaths were up by over 5,000 compared to the same months in 2019, reaching more than 72,000 for the first time, and nearly 74,000 in March 2020. These increases follow two years of relatively stable numbers of reported 12-month overdose deaths.  Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia saw increases in overdoses, while only 12 states saw decreases.
 
COVID-19 and overdose deaths disproportionately impact already vulnerable communities and are exacerbating health disparities within them. Harm reduction strategies to reduce overdose deaths must include broad-based naloxone access through syringe exchange programs and other sources, access to substance use disorder treatment, including methadone and buprenorphine, expanded telehealth, and other housing assistance and other health resources. And since these data also confirm that cocaine and stimulant-involved overdose deaths continue to rise, it is critical that our strategies are not solely limited to opioids if we want to curb overdose deaths more broadly.
 
We urge community leaders, advocates and legislators to take swift action to reimagine our current systems of care to turn the tide on this devastating trend.”
 
For DPA’s full COVID-19 policy recommendations, visit drugpolicy.org/COVID19.