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A couple attends Black Balloon Day, a day to honor those who have died due to accidental overdoses, Portland, Maine, March 6. Photo: Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Deaths from drug overdoses in the U.S. soared by nearly 30% in 2020, reaching a record high of 93,331, according to provisional data released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why it matters: The shocking figures — which represent the sharpest annual increase in at least three decades — reflect the proliferation of the synthetic opioid fentanyl in the illegal narcotic supply and the pandemic's toll on the opioid crisis.

  • There were an estimated 72,151 deaths from drug overdoses in 2019, according to the data.

The big picture: Overdose deaths involving opioids reached 69,710 in 2020, up from 50,963 in 2019, according to the Washington Post.

  • Deaths from methamphetamine and cocaine also rose.
  • More than 900,000 people have died of overdoses since the U.S. drug epidemic began in about 1999, according to the Post.

What they're saying: "That is a stunning number even for those of us who have tracked this issue,” Brendan Saloner, associate professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Wall Street Journal. "Our public health tools have not kept pace with the urgency of the crisis."

Driving the news: President Biden, who has committed to addressing the drug epidemic, yesterday nominated former West Virginia health commissioner Rahul Gupta to be the administration's drug czar.

Go deeper

Oct 20, 2021 - World

Putin supports week at home for workers amid rising COVID-19 deaths

A serviceman of Russia's Emergencies Ministry wearing protective gear disinfects Moscow's Belorussky railway station on October 20, 2021. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday supported a proposal to institute a non-working week to curb record high coronavirus deaths, AP reports.

Driving the news: Putin said Wednesday that he backs a non-working period, where workers will stay at home, beginning Oct. 30 and continuing through the following week, when four of seven days are already state holidays, per AP.

Updated 32 mins ago - World

Biden cleans up comments about Russia invading Ukraine

Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden sought to clarify his suggestion that a "minor incursion" by Russia into Ukraine may not draw the same response as a large invasion, telling reporters Thursday that "Russia will pay a heavy price" if any troops cross the border.

Why it matters: Some officials in Kyiv saw Biden's comments as inviting Russian aggression.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
45 mins ago - Health

Study finds bias against Black patients written into medical charts

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Black patients were more than two-and-a-half times as likely as white patients to have negative descriptors about them in their electronic health record, according to a study published Wednesday in Health Affairs.

Why it matters: The study is further evidence of bias in the U.S. health care system, which can ultimately result in worse care and disparately poor outcomes.