Preliminary numbers released Wednesday showed fatalities increasing by approximately 10 percent from January through March, the most recent period for which data is available.
During those three months, 19,416 people died of overdoses — nearly 3,000 more than did in the same period last year.
The United States set a record for fatal overdoses in 2019, suggesting that deaths were already rising before the pandemic became a concern. But local officials around the country began witnessing sharp increases in overdoses this spring, probably resulting from a constellation of factors.
Widespread shutdowns meant that many treatment centers and recovery programs were closed, while quarantines made it more likely that people would use drugs alone and not have anyone around to call for help or administer Narcan in case of an emergency, The Washington Post previously reported. Border closures also disrupted typical drug routes, which appeared to increase the likelihood that people would try unfamiliar substances.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration cited the possibility of increased overdoses as a reason that states should reopen their economies. But many drug policy experts say that doing so won’t fully address the crisis and that a sustained investment in treatment is needed.