Trends in opioid toxicity–related deaths in the US before and after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2011-2021

Over the past 2 decades, opioid-related harms have emerged as a leading public health crisis in North America. Younger adults represent a disproportionate number of these deaths, with early loss of life placing a major toll on public health. Despite early signals that rates of death due to opioid toxicity slowed between 2017 and 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic carried with it major changes in societal priorities and access to health services that, along with the increasing dangers of the unregulated drug supply, were anticipated to worsen opioid-related harms.

We sought to characterize the growing societal burden of unintentional opioid-related deaths in the US and examine patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic and across demographic subgroups of the population.

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