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Expand chart
Data: CDC; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

New data shows that more Americans died of drug overdoses in the year leading to September 2020 than any 12-month period since the opioid epidemic began.

Why it matters: The stubborn increase of such "deaths of despair" shows that the opioid epidemic still has room to grow and that some of the social distancing steps we took to rein in the pandemic may have brought deadly side effects.

By the numbers: More than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in the 12 months leading to September 2020, according to preliminary federal data released this week.

  • That represents a 29% increase in overdose deaths for the months between October 2019 and September 2020 compared to the prior year.
  • While overdose deaths from drugs had begun rising in the months leading to the pandemic — after dipping slightly in 2018 for the first time in years — the biggest spike in deaths occurred in April and May 2020, when shutdowns were strictest.

Of note: While the earliest years of the opioid epidemic were worst among white Americans in rural and suburban areas, Black Americans are now suffering disproportionately.

Details: Experts connect some of the increase in overdose deaths to the social isolation and temporary closure of many treatment programs during the pandemic.

  • One study found that people used drugs more frequently during the pandemic, and often did so alone, putting them at greater risk of dying of an overdose.
  • At least 25% of syringe-service programs reported having to close sites because of distancing policies during the pandemic, and nearly half had to restrict operating hours.

The bottom line: As we worry about the very rare side effects of some COVID-19 vaccines, we shouldn't forget about the deadly unintended consequences of other measures designed to control the pandemic.

Go deeper

Apr 14, 2021 - Axios Denver

Mental health poised to be Colorado's next pandemic priority

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The pandemic left no life unscathed, and the universal experience of enduring a tumultuous year has made health and wellness a pressing priority for people from all walks of life.

  • "There’s a new dynamic. … It’s almost like it’s OK to get help," Dr. Carl Clark, president and CEO of the Mental Health Center of Denver, tells Axios.
37 mins ago - Health

Biden reaches agreements with Uber and Lyft to give free rides to vaccine sites

A coronavirus vaccination site in Miami on May 10. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Biden administration has reached agreements with ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft to offer free rides to coronavirus vaccination sites through July 4, the White House announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: The free rides, starting in the next two weeks, are part of the Biden administration's push to administer at least one vaccine dose to 70% of U.S. adults by Independence Day.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
48 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Biden officials green-light nation's first big offshore wind project

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration today gave final approval to Vineyard Wind, a project off the Massachusetts coast slated to be the country's first large-scale offshore wind farm.

Why it matters: While the green-light for the long-proposed projected was expected, it marks a key step in White House plans to help spur development of a suite of coastal projects off New York, New Jersey and other states.

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