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Opioids Drive Highest Number Of OD Deaths Ever In US, While NJ Holds Steady, CDC Reports

December 2019 to December 2020
December 2019 to December 2020 Photo Credit: cdc.gov

Call it a statistical oddity: Despite an historic spike in drug overdose deaths across the United States last year, the total reported for New Jersey ticked up barely 1% over 2019 – compared with an increase of more than 32% in New York, over 17% in Pennsylvania and more than 10% in Connecticut, the CDC reported.

More than 93,000 people across the country died from drug overdoses amid last year’s COVID-19 pandemic, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

That total represented a 29.4% increase from the 72,151 deaths projected nationwide for 2019, according to an annual provisional drug OD death report released Wednesday.

"This is the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, and the largest increase since at least 1999," National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Dr. Nora Volkow said in a statement.

She called the figures “chilling.”

"This has been an incredibly uncertain and stressful time for many people,” Volkow said. “[W]e are seeing an increase in drug consumption, difficulty in accessing life-saving treatments for substance use disorders, and a tragic rise in overdose deaths.”

Not surprisingly, overdose deaths from synthetic opioids -- primarily fentanyl – and psychostimulants such as meth also increased last year, as did those from cocaine and prescription pain killers, the NCHS reported.

Opioid OD deaths rose to 69,710 last year from 50,963 in 2019, the center reported.

"As we continue to address both the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid crisis, we must prioritize making treatment options more widely available to people with substance use disorders,” Volkow said.

Experts have blamed drug companies along with physicians who’ve overprescribed opioids – and, in doing so, made addicts of their patients.

Government has tried to address the problem, in part, through tightened prescription requirements along with prosecutions, both locally and nationwide.

Last week, Oxycontin-maker Purdue Pharma reached an historic $4.3 billion settlement with New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and a dozen other states that one attorney general said involved the “most that individuals have ever paid for breaking the law.”

SEE: NJ, NY, PA Among States Sharing Historic $4.3B Purdue Pharma Settlement

The slight increase in drug OD deaths for New Jersey reported by the CDC on Wednesday -- from 2,811 to 2,841 -- couldn't be explained, although the centers warn that figures for all of the states are "underreported due to incomplete data." 

Gov. Murphy's Administration reported an increase in drug-related deaths to 3,021 suspected cases last year in New Jersey from 2,914 confirmed overdose deaths in 2019.The next closest state in terms of increase, according to the CDC, was Massachusetts, where drug OD deaths increased by 1.9% last year over 2019 (2,274 to 2,318).

After that comes Delaware's 5.4% increase, Idaho's 6.8% and Utah's 7.2%.The rest are in double figures, beginning with Connecticut's 10.7% increase in overdose deaths from 2019 to last year (1,251 to 1,385).

The highest: Vermont, up 57.6% over the year before; Kentucky, up 53.7% from 2019; South Carolina, up 51.9%; Louisiana, up 47.6%; California, up 45.9%; Nebraska, up 42.9%, the District of Columbia, up 39.2%, 

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