Synthetic Opioids – Increases in Overdose Deaths 2020

synthetic opioids man alone in snowy woods

The CDC calls for increasing awareness of the risk of using drugs when alone.


A December Health Alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says overdose deaths accelerated in 2020. The largest increases were from March to May, which coincides with widespread measures taken to slow the spread of COVID-19. Approximately 81,230 drug overdose deaths occurred in the US from May 2019 to May 2020. In fact, it is the largest number of drug overdoses for a 12-month period ever recorded.


Synthetic Opioids

The CDC is calling for increased awareness and expansion of “prevention and response activities”. Overdose deaths were driven by synthetic opioids, most likely illegally manufactured fentanyl. However, two new factors have come to the fore:


  • The changing geographic distribution –  Historically, synthetic opioid deaths have been concentrated in states east of the Mississippi River. But synthetic opioid deaths have increased 98% during this period in the western states due to increased availability.
  • Cocaine and Methamphetamines – Overdose deaths involving cocaine also increased 26%. These deaths are primarily related to co-use of cocaine by those injecting synthetic opioids. However, overdose deaths involving psychostimulants like methamphetamines, have been increasing both with and without co-use of synthetic opioids.


The Risk of Using Drugs Alone

The CDC’s recommendations include expanding the supply and use of naloxone and educating the public. And they also call for increasing awareness of the risk of using drugs when alone. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recommendations include the need for risk reduction strategies for those who use drugs.

  • Know the drugs you are using
  • Do not use drugs alone or have a loved one check in regularly, especially during use
  • Make naloxone available and train loved ones to administer
  • Involve the community for connection, group services, and education
  • Expand locations for overdose prevention, education, and take-home naloxone kits.


For the complete CDC Health Advisory click below:

Increase in Fatal Drug Overdoses Across the United States Driven by Synthetic Opioids Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic

synthetic opioids cdc advisory









Sanford Behavioral Health is a residential and outpatient facility located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sanford offers excellence in evidence-based practice models in a home-like, restorative setting. Our clinicians, supported by our medical team, focus on resolving the underlying issues that often cause substance use, such as trauma, unhealthy relationships, co-occurring disorders and isolation. Programs include both in-person and telehealth: residential, day programs, intensive outpatient, outpatient, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), education and relapse prevention classes, one-on-one and family therapy, and alumni and family support groups. At Sanford, we want to inspire you to find your inner grit, rekindle your interests and engage your passion.