CDC Data Show the Highest Recorded Number of Overdose Deaths Occurred in 2020

Provisional data on drug overdose death counts in all 50 states and the District of Columbia released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) show that 93,331 people died from drug overdoses in the United States, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded. The data show that there was a nearly 30 percent increase in overdose deaths in 2020 compared to the previous year, which is the largest increase reported since 1999. Overdose deaths began to rapidly increase during the height of the pandemic as local health department’s substance use treatment and prevention programs became limited or were shut down completely. According to NCHS, three-quarters of the overdose deaths were due to synthetic opioids and illegally manufactured fentanyl. National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Dr. Nora Volkow said in a statement, “These data are chilling. The COVID-19 pandemic created a devastating collision of health crises in America.” She added “this has been an incredibly uncertain and stressful time for many people and we are seeing an increase in drug consumption, difficulty in accessing life-saving treatments for substance use disorders, and a tragic rise in overdose deaths.” The provisional data will be finalized later this year.

Articles & Resources

CDC – Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts

Politico – Pandemic fueled deadliest year for drug overdoses, CDC data shows

CNN – Drug Overdose Deaths in 2020 Hit Highest Number Ever Recorded, CDC Data Shows


Biden Nominates Former WV Public Health Official Dr. Rahul Gupta to Lead ONDCP

President Biden has nominated Dr. Rahul Gupta to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and tackle the challenges of the current opioid crisis. Dr. Gupta currently serves Chief Medical & Health Officer at March of Dimes. Prior to joining March of Dimes in 2018, Dr. Gupta served as the State Health Officer for West Virginia, a state that has been hit especially hard by the opioid epidemic. While some advocates expressed concern over Dr. Gupta’s nomination due to his role in limiting harm reduction efforts through the closure of a syringe exchange program in Charleston, West Virginia, several lawmakers have publicly expressed their support, citing confidence in Dr. Gupta’s medical knowledge and experience coordinating West Virginia’s response to the opioid epidemic. In a statement, Senator Shelley Moor Capito said, “Dr. Gupta understands the crippling impact the addiction crisis has had on West Virginia. Looking forward to working together to increase drug prevention efforts, support treatment and recovery, and reduce the supply of deadly drugs in our communities.” If confirmed, Dr. Gupta would be the first medical doctor in the role. ONDCP is a component of the Executive Office of the President and is responsible for coordinating federal drug policy. The head of ONDCP runs the office and reports to the President.

Articles & Resources

Senator Shelley Moore Capito – Doctor with Ties to W.Va. Nominated to Serve on Biden Administration

The New York Times – Biden’s Pick for Drug Czar Draws Mixed Reviews

The Washington Post – Biden picks former West Virginia health official as nation’s drug czar

The White House – President Biden Announces 11 Key Nomination


Two Pieces of Legislation Reintroduced to Increase Awareness of the Risks of Prescription Opioids

Last week, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Mike Braun (R-IN) reintroduced the Safer Prescribing of Controlled Substances Act and the Lessening Addiction by Enhancing Labeling (LABEL) Opioids Act, two pieces of legislation aimed at addressing the opioid epidemic through increasing awareness of prescription opioid risks. The Safer Prescribing of Controlled Substances Act would require mandatory additional education for opioid prescribers on non-opioid alternatives, pain management, and treating substance use disorders. The bill would also require that the Department of Health and Human Services evaluate the effects of the mandatory education on prescribing patterns. The LABEL Opioids Act would direct the Food and Drug Administration to require that on all opioid bottles, with the exception of methadone, buprenorphine, or other treatments for opioid-use disorder,  have clear warning labels that outline the potential for addiction or overdose to be placed. In a press release, Senator Braun said “the opioid epidemic only got worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, and given that a serious opioid addiction can affect anyone, we need solutions like these two bills which ensure that all opioid pill bottles have a clear and concise warning label about the possibility of dangerous drug dependence and require prescribers of opioids to complete additional training regarding the special risks of substance abuse and overdose in opioid medications.”

Articles & Resources

Senator Ed Markey – As Opioid Crisis Accelerates, Senators Markey and Braun Reintroduce Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Prescriber Education, Require Warning Label on Addictive Opioid Medications

Safer Prescribing of Controlled Substances Act

Lessening Addiction by Enhancing Labeling (LABEL) Opioids Act


FY22 Labor-HHS Appropriations Bill Advances to Full House

On July 15th, by a vote of 33-24, the House Appropriations Committee agreed to move the Fiscal Year 2022 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) funding bill to the full House. The bill includes increases in funding for several initiatives within the Department of Health and Human Services that address the opioid epidemic, including $9.16 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and an increase of $627 million for National Institutes of Health to research opioids and pain management. Funding for SAMHSA includes $2.8 billion for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant (SABG), $2 billion for State Opioid Response Grants, $136.5 million for Medication Assisted Treatment, $243.5 million for substance abuse prevention, and a set-aside fund of 10 percent from the SABG for recovery services.

Articles & Resources

House Committee on Appropriations  – Appropriations Committee Releases Fiscal Year 2022 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Funding Bill

FY 2022 Labor-HHS Bill


What We Read Last Week

Several articles were published last week pertaining to the opioid epidemic, covering a variety of different components of the issue. Links to relevant articles are provided below.

Articles & Resources

Centre for Economic Policy Research – Understanding the opioid epidemic: When innovation fails

CNN – Biden in standoff with Democratic senators over who should lead FDA

Cornell Chronicle – Research partnership supports NYS families fighting opioids

C-SPAN – Conservative Political Action Conference Discussion on the Opioid Crisis

FDA Law Blog – DEA To Mobile Narcotic Treatment Programs: “Hit the Road, Jack, But You Better Come Back”

JAMA – Use of Medications for Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder Among US Medicaid Enrollees in 11 States, 2014-2018

Medicaid – $15 Million Funding Opportunity for State Planning Grants to Bolster Mobile Crisis Intervention Services

Medpage Today – Opioid Use Disorder Treatment Rises in Medicaid Recipients

Morning Consult – A Comprehensive Strategy to Combat the Opioid Crisis Must Include Expanding Access to Naloxone

National Bureau of Economic Research – Do Policies to Increase Access to Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder Work?

National Safety Council – CDC Data Shows Largest Annual Increase in Overdose Deaths in at Least 50 Years

NPR – A Tragic Death Shows How ERs Fail Patients Who Struggle With Addiction

NPR – Overdose Deaths In State Prisons Have Jumped Dramatically Since 2001

Psychology Today – What Exactly Is the Biopsychosocial Model of Addiction?

Representative Ann McLane Kuster – Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force Statement on Record Number of Overdose Deaths in 2020

Senator Ed Markey – Markey Decries Massive Increase in Drug Overdose Deaths, Calls for Action on Fentanyl and Treatment Expansion

Senator Joe Manchin – Manchin: 93,331 Overdose Deaths Last Year Show Need for Action Now

Senator Rob Portman – Portman: Staggering Number of Overdose Deaths Underscores Need for Decisive Action to Address Worsening Addiction Crisis

The Commonwealth Fund – The Drug Overdose Toll in 2020 and Near-Term Actions for Addressing It

The Washington Post – Drug overdose deaths soared to a record 93,000 last year

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania – Former Pittsburgh-area Doctor Pleads Guilty to Unlawfully Prescribing Opioids, Health Care Fraud and Money Laundering


This Week’s Calendar

In the week ahead, there are no relevant events or hearings noticed at this time. In the event that there are any changes to the schedule for this week, we will make additional information available.


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