White House: Overdose deaths reach 88,000 during COVID-19 pandemic
A White House official said Thursday that 88,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses during the 12-month period that ended in August.
According to an NPR report, Regina LaBelle, JD, the acting director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, also said the number of deaths increased 27% compared with the previous year, and Americans aged 35 to 44 years appear to be most at risk for a drug overdose.
The estimated number of overdose deaths is based on provisional data from the CDC. It exceeds a previous estimate that the agency released in December — 81,230 drug overdose deaths in a 12-month period that ended in May. At the time, the CDC said it was the highest number of overdose deaths ever registered in a similar time frame.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said in a separate statement that deaths from illicitly manufactured fentanyl and synthetic opioids are driving the increase in overdose deaths; however, deaths caused by cocaine and other psychostimulants, like methamphetamine, have also increased in recent years.
In addition, “new data suggest that COVID-19 has exacerbated the epidemic and increases in overdose mortality have underscored systemic inequities in our nation’s approach to criminal justice and prevention, treatment and recovery,” the statement continued.
Ending addiction ‘urgent priority’ for Biden
The National Drug Control Policy outlined the Biden administration’s first-year drug policy priorities, which include:
- broadening access to evidence-based treatment;
- addressing issues of racial equity in drug policy;
- boosting evidence-based efforts for harm reduction;
- supporting evidence-based efforts for reducing substance use among youth;
- decreasing the supply of illegal substances;
- promoting “recovery-ready workplaces” and increasing the addiction workforce; and
- enhancing access to recovery support services.
“President Biden has made clear that addressing the overdose and addiction epidemic is an urgent priority for his administration,” the statement read. “President Biden has also said that people should not be incarcerated for drug use but should be offered treatment instead.”
The office said it will “work closely” with governments at all levels to put the president’s strategy into place.
AMA applauds administration’s action
Susan R. Bailey, MD, president of the AMA, said in a statement that the Biden administration’s plan “tackles overdoses and substance use disorder head-on in ways that will reduce stigma and remove barriers to treatment.”
She commended other details of the strategy, including enforcing mental health and substance use parity and removing obstacles to prescribing buprenorphine.
“The AMA also strongly encourages continuing telehealth flexibilities made available during the COVID-19 pandemic for patients being treated for substance use disorder,” Bailey said.
The AMA, she added, stands ready to work with the administration in implementing these initiatives.
AMA. AMA applauds Biden administration’s first-year drug policy priorities. April 1, 2021. https://www.ama-assn.org/press-center/ama-statements/ama-applauds-biden-administration-s-first-year-drug-policy-priorities. Accessed April 2, 2021.
CDC. National Center for Health Statistics. Provisional drug overdose death counts. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/drug-overdose-data.htm. Accessed April 2, 2021.
Executive Office of the President Office of National Drug Control Policy. The Biden-Harris administration’s statement of drug policy priorities for year one. https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/20536908/embargoed-bidenharris-statement-of-drug-policy-priorities-april-1.pdf. Accessed April 2, 2021.
Mann B. White House says drug overdose deaths spiked to 88,000 during the pandemic. NPR. April 1, 2021. https://www.npr.org/2021/04/01/983414684/white-house-says-drug-overdose-deaths-spiked-to-88-000-during-the-pandemic. Accessed April 2, 2021.