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Substance Abuse Statistics for 2020 Reveal Highest Number of Drug Overdoses

The release of substance abuse statistics in 2020 revealed that it was the deadliest year in U.S. history; nearly a million people died of overdoses in the United States.1  We reveal what experts say caused the increase and suggest steps for action to prevent these numbers in the future.

Drug Overdoses Took a Turn for the Worse in 2020

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According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths increased between 2019 and 2020.2

2020’s statistics regarding drug overdoses was both an increase of 30% compared to previous years and more than any one-year span in history of the United States. Oregon, Virginia, and Ohio experienced particularly high numbers of overdose deaths in 2020, at 580, 2035, and 548 respectively.3

The data revealed that increases in overdose deaths were by no means confined only to Washington, Colorado, and other states with existing use of opioids. Rather, all states, age groups, and communities experienced increases in overdose deaths in 2020.

Astonishing Number of Deaths in 2020 Continue to Concern Many

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The significant lack of access to much-needed addiction treatment was a top concern of many health professionals; a concern that hasn’t waned. Health professionals today are trying to focus on how to make addiction services available should future lockdowns and restrictions occur.

Naloxone kits were identified as one solution for saving lives, as the kits make the quick reversal of overdose possible via the blocking of opioid effects. The ability to receive counseling via video may also be a solution that can help ease the concern of high overdose numbers in future.

2020 Death Rates: COVID Considerations, Substance Abuse, and Diseases of Despair

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2020’s increased death rates to nearly a million Americans appear to have a number of causes.

COVID Considerations

Many experts blame the increased isolation of lockdowns, along with other restrictions, for these high overdose numbers. This is because increased isolation made it more difficult for those with addiction to get the treatment they needed, whether for addiction, mental health issues, or both.

Data published by the CDC showed that the largest spike in overdoses occurred between March and May 2020, at the point when significant changes in the form of social distancing, lockdowns, and economic collapses were occurring.

Another aspect of the above restrictions was the fact that unemployment benefit extensions, in addition to the suspicion of evictions, left those struggling with addiction with more money than they typically had, which was used to stock up on personal substance supply.

Substance Abuse

Other experts blame the increase in 2020 prescription opioid overdose deaths on synthetic opioids like Fentanyl, which is being illegally sold in higher amounts and mixed with other street drugs for added potency. This has, experts say, contaminated the overall supply of methamphetamines, cocaine, and heroin.

Some blame an increase in overdose deaths on increased substance use during 2020, but the evidence has since shown that the increase was not due to a higher number of people in the United States using drugs. Instead, some experts suspect the increase to be due to those with existing addiction who were struggling.

Diseases of Despair

Substance abuse and diseases of despair have a significant connection because the two can co-exist. Those who already have these diseases may attempt to self-medicate with drug use, leading to drug addiction or alcohol use disorder. As well, prolonged drug and alcohol use can lead to the development of diseases of despair like self-harm and suicide.

Better Access to Treatment

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Billions of dollars have been allocated by the federal government for substance abuse treatment programs. As well, states that haven’t yet expanded their Medicaid programs to include substance abuse treatment are being given incentives for doing so.

Modifications to federal regulations have increased flexibility with the prescription of methadone and buprenorphine, no longer requiring those seeking these treatments to attend in-person appointments to obtain them.

Finding the Treatment Center You Need

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When it comes to choosing the right treatment center, it’s crucial to look at the treatment options each one offers and at what cost. In addition, any treatment center you are considering must possess the necessary experience in treating substance use disorder.

Because every person is an individual, the individual path to recovery will differ. That being said, treatment programs offered by any center should be tailored to meet each client’s unique needs.

However, treatment facilities should also go beyond treating the individual, recognizing the importance of family and other significant relationships and supporting the healing of those relationships with compassionate guidance.

Come Home to Recovery

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Yellowstone Recovery offers a multitude of holistic and individualized treatment options to its clients, including individual and group counseling, relapse prevention, and personal growth. Our treatment options extend from detoxification and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), to primary care, outpatient, and beyond.

Our clients benefit from the over two decades of addiction treatment experience that our highly skilled team possesses. Under careful observation, our team oversees treatment to ensure safety and effectiveness at every step.

We guide family members and loved ones through recovery by providing them with continual support that inspires motivation and helps families focus on the bright and healthy future that’s ahead.

We at Yellowstone Recovery believe that treatment for substance use shouldn’t be a barrier for anyone. That’s why our non-profit organization offers complete treatment for addiction, at costs that place this treatment within reach for all. In fact, we are able to provide rehab at the lowest cost in Southern California!

We understand the time and commitment required for successful recovery. That commitment extends to the support groups of our clients. Our treatment program also includes placement assistance, connecting clients to a peer group that helps them find employment.

Yellowstone Recovery treats all, from young people to mature individuals at our addiction center. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, treatment with Yellowstone can help. Visit our website to learn more about our addiction treatment programs.


  1. https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2021/drug-overdose-toll-2020-and-near-term-actions-addressing-it
  2. https://nida.nih.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
  3. https://news.marketersmedia.com/the-deadliest-year-in-drug-history-2020-reports/88998446

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