The number of fatal drug overdoses reached the highest level since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s, with 87,000 deaths reported from September 2019 to September 2020, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as reported in The New York Times.

That marks a 29% spike from the previous year (September 2018 to 2019) and represents a serious setback in the nation’s battle against the opioid epidemic. The biggest jump in drug overdose deaths occurred in April and May, when the nation began shutting down due to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts suggest the lockdowns not only caused anxiety and fear but also cut off access to support services, clean syringes and naloxone, an overdose-reversing medication. Another factor in the high overdose rate is the appearance of synthetic and extremely powerful opioids, like fentanyl and tramadol. Other drugs, such as methamphetamine, also played a role in the deaths, the Times reports.

Another change in the addiction epidemic and related overdoses is that they are increasingly affecting minority communities. What was once associated with mostly white rural and suburban Americans is affecting African Americans disproportionately.

“The highest increase in mortality from opioids, predominantly driven by fentanyl, is now among Black Americans,” Nora Volkow, MD, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), said at a national addiction conference last week, according to the Times. “And when you look at mortality from methamphetamine, it’s chilling to realize that the risk of dying from methamphetamine overdose is 12-fold higher among American Indians and Alaskan Natives than other groups.”

But those aren’t the only populations affected. Data released earlier this year by NIDA showed that overdose deaths related to methamphetamines spiked between 2011 and 2018 among all racial and ethnic groups, with men generally experiencing higher rates of death than women.

Although the CDC data don’t include information about HIV and hepatitis C, both of which can be transmitted through injection drug use, health experts have predicted increases in both viruses.

In the past year, several LGBTQ and HIV groups have sounded the alarm regarding the growing meth problem in their communities. For more on that, see “Meth and HIV Among Gay and Bi Latino Men [Video]” and “Meth Use Strongly Tied to New HIV Cases in Gay and Bi Men.”

West Virginia, for example, is currently facing an alarming rise in HIV cases related to injection drug use. For more on that, see “UPDATE: U.S. Senator Seeks CDC Inquiry in West Virginia HIV Outbreak.” Similarly, see “COVID-19 Raises Concerns of HIV and Hepatitis C in Boston.”

To learn more about hepatitis C, a liver disease that can be cured, check out the Hep Mag Basics pages. For an introduction to HIV/AIDS, including transmission, testing and treatment, visit the Basics pages on