Illinois county sees record opioid overdose deaths in 2020, medical examiner’s office says

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Cook County, Ill., saw nearly 1,600 opioid overdose deaths in 2020, a record, the county’s medical examiner’s office said Friday.

However, because the office is still awaiting the results of hundreds of toxicology tests, the number could be over 2,000, officials said.

So far, the office has confirmed 1,599 opioid overdose deaths in 2020 – a 25 percent increase over the previous year. In 2019, the county confirmed 1,277 opioid overdose deaths – the highest total the county had ever recorded, the office said. In 2018, the number was only 1,138. In 2015, the county only saw 647 opioid overdose deaths.

The office said that nearly half of the opioid overdose deaths were Black.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioid overdose deaths are up more than 25 percent across the country. On Dec. 17, the CDC said more than 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States between May 2019 and May 2020 – the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in the country.

Officials point to the COVID-19 pandemic as the cause.

“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield. “As we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it’s important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences.”

The CDC said that synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl) appear to be driving the increase, increasing 38.4 percent. The agency said that 37 of 38 U.S. jurisdictions with available synthetic opioid data reported increases in synthetic opioid-involved overdose deaths. Eighteen of those jurisdictions reported increases greater than 50 percent, and 10 western states reported an increase of more than 98 percent in synthetic opioid-involved deaths.

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