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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

States and cities are facing a rising number of drug overdoses that health officials say have increased during the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: Roughly 81,000 people died from a drug overdose between June 2019 and May 2020, the highest number ever recorded in a 12-month period, according to provisional data in the CDC's December report.

Where it stands: Fatal drug overdoses in Maine "climbed nearly one-third in 2020 to set a record," according to public health officials, the Boston Globe reports.

  • Overdoses in Staten Island have sharply increased this year compared to the same period in 2020 and 2019, per the Staten Island Advance.
  • West Virginia officials have held virtual town halls to fight rising overdoses in the state during the pandemic.
  • In Washington state, principal research scientist Caleb Banta-Green at the University of Washington told a local NPR station in February: "We've seen a really striking increase in all drug overdose deaths. It's really clearly getting driven by these deaths that are involved in Fentanyl."
  • Preliminary North Carolina data from 2020 shows a 23% increase in overdose-related emergency room visits compared to the previous year, North Carolina Health News reports.
  • In Mississippi, one law enforcement official said the pandemic had been "like pouring gasoline on a fire" in fueling drug overdose deaths, the Sun Herald reports.

Between the lines: Suicide attempts and overdoses reported in emergency room visits were higher during the pandemic than in the same time period during 2019, according to a peer-reviewed study published in JAMA last month.

  • A post-COVID mental health pandemic could be one of the "long-term ravages" of the pandemic that NIAID director Anthony Fauci, as well as other officials, are worried about.

What they're saying: "People are indeed experiencing poor mental health, suicidal thoughts, and substance use potentially as a coping mechanism," Kristin Holland, author of the study and a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NPR.

  • “You get into a depression, and you can’t socialize with certain people,” Eric Skillings, a 37-year-old man living in a Sanford, Maine told the Globe. “You just dig yourself into a hole, and you can’t climb out of it.”
  • “Overall things are looking more hopeful but I have to say, the mental health component is concerning — that includes substance use — and I don’t think we’ve seen the full impact yet,” Timothy Sullivan, chair of behavioral health at Staten Island University Hospital, told the Advance.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free and confidential support for anyone in distress, in addition to prevention and crisis resources. Also available for online chat.

Methodology: From December 30, 2018, to October 10, 2020, a total of 187,508,065 emergency department visits were recorded via near real-time data from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP) at the CDC. Data is not nationally representative.

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.