Overdose deaths rose to record highs as the pandemic spread

“A lot of people die without knowing what they swallow,” he added.

People struggling with addiction and recovering are prone to recurrence. The initial closures of the pandemic and the subsequent deterioration of social networks, as well as the increase in mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, helped create a health vortex.

So did the postponement of treatment for substance abuse disorders as health care providers nationwide struggled to care for a huge number of coronavirus patients and delayed other services.

Dr. Joseph Lee, president and CEO of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, said the loss of community and social support during the pandemic and the closure of schools contributed to an increase in overdose deaths. “We see a lot of people who delayed getting help and who seem to be sicker,” Dr. Lee said.

The majority of these deaths, about 70 percent, were among men aged 25–54 years. And while the opioid crisis has been characterized primarily as affecting white Americans, a growing number of black Americans have also suffered.

There were regional variations in the number of deaths, with the largest annual increase – over 50 percent – in California, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and Kentucky. Vermont tolls were low but increased 85 percent during the review period.

An increase of about 40 percent was observed in Washington State, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Alaska, Nebraska, Virginia and Carolina. The death toll fell in New Hampshire, New Jersey and South Dakota.

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