When the pandemic hit, the U.S. was already in the grips of another epidemic. Opioids had been killing Americans at an astonishing rate, driven by fentanyl – a deadly synthesized drug that is mixed with heroin or sold as heroin. Its potency makes it easy to overdose.

As bad as the opioid epidemic was before COVID-19, it has only gotten worse. New figures from the CDC show that in the year through April 2021, more than 100,000 people in the U.S. died of drug overdoses, up almost a third from the previous 12-month period.

Brandeis’ Andrew Kolodny, who has been fighting the epidemic for 20 years as a public health official and clinician, explains why.

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Emblems of America’s epidemics. David Gannon/AFP via Getty Images

How the pandemic helped spread fentanyl across the US and drive opioid overdose deaths to a grim new high

Andrew Kolodny, Brandeis University

The number of fatal drug overdoses in the US over a 12-month period has surpassed 100,000 for the first time. Fentanyl is the main driver of the spike in deaths.

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