A record number of Americans died from drug overdoses last year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, according to official data.
In total, an estimated 93,331 Americans died of overdoses in 2020 – a nearly 30% increase from the previous year.
Experts say the spike indicates how deadly some drugs have become, and the disruptive impact the pandemic has had on society.
The surge was partly driven by the increase in fentanyl.
The powerful synthetic opioid is said to be about 50 times stronger than heroin.
Experts say it has “contaminated” other drugs, as dealers add pharmaceutical fentanyl to street drugs to make them stronger.
Isolation and feelings of loneliness due to the coronavirus pandemic have also been blamed for an increase in drug deaths.
“This is the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period, and the largest increase since at least 1999,” the director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, Nora Volkow, said in a statement.
The figures released on Tuesday mean that about 250 overdose deaths occurred every day, or around 11 per hour.
Gina Malagold’s brother Dylan first overdosed in April 2020. She told BBC News that she blamed coronavirus stimulus cheques for enabling her brother’s drug habit.
The family struggled to find him a rehab clinic, with many beds occupied by coronavirus patients.
After testing positive for Covid, Dylan self-isolated in a family cabin where he died from an overdose.
“The disease is so incredible. It is a disease. We need to treat it like any other disease because that is what it is,” Ms Malagold told the BBC’s Koralie Barrau.
The record figures came as US President Joe Biden selected a West Virginia doctor to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy as the nation’s drug tsar.
If confirmed by the Senate, former West Virginia health commissioner Dr Rahul Gupta will be tasked with steering the US response to the opioid epidemic.