The Devastating Toll of Drug Overdoses in the U.S. in 2020

The Devastating Toll of Drug Overdoses in the U.S. in 2020Drug overdoses are some of the most devastating events that can occur in a community. Often, overdoses take lives way too early. These tragedies are a sign that our medical system, along with our mental health resources, have failed an individual. Though many people are quick to judge those who overdose, the reality is that overdoses are rarely planned, and always heartbreaking. No one deserves to die, no matter their past, habits, or vices.

The shocking amount of drug overdoses in 2020 only highlighted the ways in which drug dependency and overdose can devastate communities. As the Covid-19 pandemic raged, many people turned to drugs and alcohol to help feel at peace. For many, that practice was relatively harmless. For others, it brought about the end.

Overdose Death Rates

The overdose death rates have been increasing minimally yet steadily for years. However, 2019 to 2020 saw a staggering  , indicating a huge problem that reared its head during the pandemic. In 2020, the United States saw 93,133 overdoses – nearly the equivalent to the population of Green Bay, WI.

With this many casualties, it is clear that the United States’ current methods for handling drug dependence and overdose are not working. Despite this, one can’t ignore the impact that Covid-19 had on these statistics.

Covid-19 and Overdose

As the pandemic swept our country and the world, many experienced loss. For most of us, there was a loss of connection, community, and variation in our daily lives. Many others were faced with homelessness, a lack of social and financial support, job loss, and abusive living situations. Yet others, or maybe all of us, experienced boredom in some context or another.

For those who do not struggle with drug dependence or drug use, these situations were uncomfortable, upsetting, or depressing at worst. For those struggling with mental health concerns or drug dependence, these situations became a gateway for dangerous behavior.

To handle isolation, loss, and uncertainty, many individuals turned to drugs for comfort and reprieve, which ultimately led to an increase in overdoses. The reports of increases in opioid-related overdose during COVID were among the most prominent, as many people tried to numb the physical and emotional pain that came along with experiencing a pandemic.

Truthfully, this behavior is to be expected. Many individuals who experience drug dependence initially turn to a vice. As one of the most challenging events of our generation raged through the world, it only made sense for drug use to increase.

The Role of Fentanyl

A key aspect of the drug overdoses in 2020 was the presence of fentanyl. Fentanyl is an extremely potent synthetic opioid. It is prescribed by medical professionals in cases when a patient’s pain cannot be managed by other pain relievers or opiates such as morphine or oxycodone.

Because it is synthetic, it is relatively easy and inexpensive. Those who supply and sell street drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines, mix it in their products.

Users do not know they are consuming fentanyl, and because it is so potent, it does not take very much for someone to overdose. A regular amount of heroin or cocaine that is mixed with fentanyl can easily cause overdose and death.

Isolation and Mental Health

Isolation and Mental HealthThough fentanyl did play a large role, it is misleading to suggest that it was the only reason for the significant uptick in overdoses in 2020. The isolation that many felt during the pandemic is a major factor.

Drug use and dependency are often tied to mental illnesses. Though dependency, in itself, is often classified as a mental illness, many people who suffer also have anxiety, depression, and other psychological conditions. No matter what the condition is, isolation is not helpful for those with mental illnesses. In fact, it takes away a lot of the resources needed to remain stable.

For most mental illnesses, some pillars of health and stability include:

  • Routine
  • Social interaction and support
  • Exercise
  • Access to proper mental healthcare
  • A safe environment/home
  • Access to nourishing food

Many of these were simply not available during the pandemic. We were all discouraged from seeing friends and family to minimize virus spread. Workplaces, schools, and restaurants were closed, providing a large disruption in routine and social opportunity. Gyms were closed or had limited access, making exercise difficult, especially for those without access to green spaces and warm weather. With public transportation offerings minimized, some people did not even have access to grocery stores.

The isolation of the pandemic triggered a lot of basic needs to become unavailable, especially to the low-income communities, vulnerable to alcoholism and drug dependency. Without stable mental health, many people turned to illegal drugs to cope. Unfortunately, that was a lethal choice for many.

Exploring Solutions

There really is not an easy solution. Many lives have been lost, and the pandemic restrictions are constantly changing. What we have seen is that the availability of virtual addiction treatment services is absolutely essential to the health and vitality of our nation.

As more and more drugs are found to be laced with fentanyl and other harmful substances, drug dependency and addiction are more dangerous than ever. Quality recovery services can be expensive, and aren’t currently available in all areas, especially remote and rural places. Virtual addiction treatment services can help to bridge that gap for the rest of the pandemic and beyond.

Extending Empathy

Unfortunately, many people are quick to jump to conclusions about overdoses. Addiction and drug dependency do not receive the same empathy and understanding as physical illnesses. Even in the world of mental health, many people judge drug dependency as a choice, but would never say the same about anxiety or depression.

In order to lower the United States’ overdose rate, we all have to treat dependency with the same understanding that we do all other illnesses. If we remove the stigma and make support more widespread, it is likely that more people will seek out recovery options.


It would be naive to say that empathy and inclusion will solve the issue overnight. There is a lot of work ahead in order to eliminate overdoses in the United States. It would also be naive to believe that the high overdose rate and horror stories will keep people dependent on drugs from using them. Until resources are widely available, we must be realistic.

Naloxone, brand name Narcan, is a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses in emergency situations. This can help prevent overdose deaths. When a person begins to exhibit signs of an overdose, naloxone can restore normal breathing and body activity. Naloxone provides a way to prevent overdose deaths, allowing those dependent on drugs another chance to get help.


Rehabilitation is the best course of action for individuals with drug dependencies. Going through a program ensures that they are safe while they withdraw from their substance and it helps them to rebuild a life outside of drug use.

Mental Health Services

Maryland Recovery Addiction and Mental Health Services

Here at Maryland Recovery, we offer nationally renowned outpatient rehabilitation services for our clients. Our mission is to provide comprehensive services that help to address the underlying mental issues that often lead to addiction. As we mentioned, drug dependency is not a choice. Our methods help to heal the individual from the ground up, to create a more stable and fulfilling sober life.

We offer:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Animal therapy
  • Meditation and mindfulness classes
  • Life coaching

We believe that these programs all contribute to a healthy, happy mental state. By healing holistically, we believe that our clients have a better chance at sustained sobriety.

Affordable Substance Use Disorder Care in Maryland

Affordable Substance Use Disorder Care in MarylandA major barrier in rehabilitation services is the price. Many people who have drug dependencies have spent a lot of their money on drugs and alcohol. Their families may be wary of another sobriety promise, or may simply not have the money to support their loved one further.

We believe that funding should not be a barrier to seeking help. This is why we have been providing affordable drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs for almost 30 years. We understand how impactful sobriety can be, and how many people’s lives depend on it. That is why we are here to help.

If you are ready to seek rehabilitation, we are ready to serve you. No matter where you are in your dependency journey, the family at Maryland Recovery has a place for you. We are here to help you move to the next phase of your life in a holistic, healthy, drug-free way.

For more information about our services, our facilities, our methods, or our staff, please contact us online today or call us 24/7 – (877) 762-3766.

Reviewed by Christopher Schwartfigure MS, LGPC, CAC-AD