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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

Biden to nominate former West Virginia health commissioner as drug czar

Dr. Rahul Gupta (center) speaks during a PBS segment of the Summer 2018 Television Critics Association Press Tour on July 31, 2018. Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

President Biden will nominate former West Virginia health commissioner Dr. Rahul Gupta to be the administration's drug czar, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: If confirmed, Gupta will be the first physician to lead the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy as the nation grapples with surging deaths from drug overdoses.

2 hours ago - World

Biden: U.S. combat mission in Iraq will end this year

Biden returning to the White House on July 25. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

The United States' combat mission against the Islamic State in Iraq will be completed "by the end of the year," President Biden said Monday prior to a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Why it matters: Biden is close to shifting the U.S. military mission in Iraq to a fully advisory role more than 18 years after combat troops were sent to the country under the former President George W. Bush.

How extreme weather feeds inflation

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

This summer's extreme weather is having ripple effects that could raise food prices in the U.S. and disrupt diets around the world.

Why it matters: Climate scientists and food supply experts, like those at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, have long warned about the impact of human-caused global warming on prices, food shortages and hunger.