(LEX 18/AP) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data about overdose deaths in 2020, and Kentucky's numbers are one of the highest in the country.
Nationwide, overdose deaths soared to a record 93,000 last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The government estimate released Wednesday eclipses the 72,000 drug overdose deaths in 2019, a change of 29.4%.
In Kentucky, there were 1,369 overdose deaths in 2019 and 2,104 deaths in 2020, a 53.7% increase from available data.
It's the 2nd highest increase in the country. Vermont saw the highest increase with 57.6% more than 2019. There were also large increases in South Carolina, West Virginia, and California.
What's causing the increase?
Prescription painkillers once drove the opioid epidemic in the U.S., but in recent years, it is now fentanyl, a dangerously powerful opioid.
Fentanyl was developed to treat intense pain from ailments like cancer. But now, it's being solid illicitly and mixed with other drugs.
CDC data says opioids are the largest contributing factor to overdose deaths in Kentucky.
"What's really driving the surge in overdoses is this increasingly poisoned drug supply," said Shannon Monnat, an associate professor of sociology at Syracuse University who researches geographic patterns in overdoses. "Nearly all of this increase is fentanyl contamination in some way. Heroin is contaminated. Cocaine is contaminated. Methamphetamine is contaminated."
According to CDC data, fentanyl was involved in more than 60% of overdose deaths last year. The National Center for Health Statistics says cocaine deaths also increased in 2020, as did deaths from natural and semi-synthetic opioids (such as prescription pain medication).
Experts also say lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions isolated those with drug addictions and made treatment harder to get.
Doctors with the National Institute on Drug Abuse say this is the largest increase in overdose deaths since 1999. They also say the COVID-19 pandemic created a devastating impact on the health crisis in America.
Provisional drug overdose death counts are based on death records received and processed by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).