KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The U.S. saw a record-breaking year for drug overdose deaths.
According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses between May 2020 and April 2021.
That's a 28.5% increase from the 78,056 deaths the year before.
The data also estimates overdose deaths from opioids increased to 75,673, up from 56,064 the year before.
The Kansas City area is also seeing a spike in drug overdose deaths over the last year.
Emily Hage, First Call president and CEO, said there are likely multiple factors contributing to the alarming rise in statistics, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
"COVID has been such a lonely, stressful, isolating time and unfortunately people who are more vulnerable or were already misusing drugs or alcohol have just been hit so very hard by the isolation," Hage said.
Megan Fowler is director of clinical services at First Call. She said, as someone who is in long-term opioid addiction recovery, she knows the challenges many people are likely facing as they try to recover.
"When people enter recovery they need to feel a sense of community and belonging and they need to feel hope and they need to feel like they are not alone," Fowler said.
Hage calls the rise in overdose deaths a "twin crisis" because there is also a large increase in synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, contributing to the deaths.
"Fentanyl is now showing up in cocaine and methamphetamine," Hage said. "Drug dealers want their drugs to be potent and addictive and putting a little bit of fentanyl is one way to make the drug even stronger, but of course if that’s even the slightest bit out of balance then it will be fatal."
Hage said First Call offers a wide variety of services to help people recover from drug and alcohol abuse.
She believes the first line of defense in fighting the epidemic is raising awareness and getting rid of the stigma around seeking help.
"We just want to be a safe, non-judgmental place for anyone who needs us," Hage said.
Experts like Fowler, who has been through the recovery process herself, know substance use disorder doesn't discriminate, and it can affect anyone. However, she said she wants those struggling to know there is a way out and it starts with First Call.
"The most important thing for somebody to understand is that recovery is possible, there is a safe place to land, there is no judgment," Fowler said.
First Call's 24-hour crisis hotline can be reached at 816-361-5900.