Drug Overdoses Reach Record High, Prompting CDC to Call for MAT Expansion

The US has reached a record high for the number of overdose deaths to occur in a one-year span.

In the 12-month period ending May 2020, 81,230 Americans succumbed to overdoses, according to a new report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The number represents an approximate 18% rise from the 12-month period ending in June 2019.

Both periods mark setbacks in America’s efforts to beat the nationwide drug epidemic, after overdose deaths decreased approximately 4% from 2017 to 2018.


Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl were the main cause of overdose deaths in the 12 months ending in May 2020, with deaths attributable to those drugs jumping more than 38% from the 12 months ending in June 2019. The report noted that local and state health departments across the country said the rise in overdose deaths was likely related to illegally manufactured fentanyl.

Another cause for the spike, at least during the last couple months included in the data, was the coronavirus. COVID-19 has caused more people to experience social isolation and economic struggles, which have worsened the nation’s overall behavioral health, causing more people to use drugs and experience conditions such as depression. As a result, behavioral health providers are struggling to keep up with the demand.

In response to the overdose data, the CDC has called on health departments and treatment providers to expand the number of locations where they dispense medication-assisted treatment (MAT) drugs such as naloxone. Examples they named include inpatient and outpatient treatment programs, pharmacies and community-based settings.


The report also stressed that the expansion of naloxone is especially critical for those living in rural areas, where access to treatment might currently be an issue. Additionally, the CDC called for the expansion of MAT for those making the transition from criminal justice institutions, residential facilities and hospitals.

“These newly released provisional fatal overdose data, coupled with the known disruption to public health, healthcare, and social services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and related mitigation measures, highlight the need for essential services to remain accessible for those most at risk of overdose and the need to expand prevention and response activities,” the report noted.

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