AUSTIN, Texas - In 2020, 93,000 people in the U.S. died from a drug overdose, according to a report released on Wednesday by the CDC.
It’s a roughly 30 percent increase from 2019 and a new record high. In Texas, the number is projected to be closer to 35 percent.
"We’ve been anticipating for some time that overdose death rates would increase this year and certainly have seen signs that during COVID overdose deaths overall have been increasing rapidly," said Lucas Hill, clinical assistant professor at UT Austin’s College of Pharmacy and director of the Pharmacy Addictions Research & Medicine Program.
Staff at Infinite Recovery, a drug rehabilitation center with facilities throughout Austin, have seen this firsthand.
"So many people were struggling during 2020 that never had an issue before," said Chrissy Glenn, national director of clinical outreach at Infinite Recovery. "They lose their job, they can’t see their family, they can’t have their support system and they turn to something to numb those emotions."
While some people may have been hit with new, pandemic-induced problems, many were also more isolated. "People are at home, they’re using alone during the pandemic so when they do overdose there is nobody to call 911, there is no one to initiate Narcan," said Robin Lindeman, executive director of Infinite Recovery.
According to Hill, prescription opioids actually account for a relatively small portion of overdose deaths. Instead, most recent overdose deaths can be attributed to street drugs that have been laced with synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Often, drug users are unaware.
"These are more potent, they’re more compact, they’re cheaper to produce and it’s easier to avoid detection by police," said Hill. "So there are a variety of reasons drug sellers might be more interested in selling fentanyl than they are selling heroin."
Unfortunately, because fentanyl is much more potent, it can cause a drug user to build up a tolerance as well as a stronger addiction. Awareness of the dangers - and the available resources - is something that staff at Infinite Recovery are trying to get across.
"Not knowing how to get treatment is a barrier," said Lindeman. "We’re trying to break down walls and really give people the information to seek help and get treatment when they need it."
Infinite Recovery offers everything from intensive outpatient services to sober living. They are also continuing to offer both in-person and virtual services. To learn more, click here.
Additionally, anyone in the state of Texas can obtain a free supply of Narcan by clicking here.