The Covid-19 pandemic has fuelled a rise in fatal drug overdoses in the United States, officials said Thursday, stressing that essential medical services have to remain accessible despite coronavirus disruptions.
More than 81,000 drug overdose deaths were recorded in the US in the year to May, the highest number ever in a 12-month period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It said the latest data showed an acceleration of overdose deaths since the pandemic took hold at the start of the year.
"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."
More than 500,000 Americans have died of opioid overdoses -- both prescription and non-prescription -- since 1999.
Corporate drugmakers such as Purdue Pharma have been taken to court on criminal charges over their drives to push unnecessary sales of prescription opioids, which stoked a nationwide addiction crisis.
Illicitly manufactured fentanyl has been the primary cause of the recent increase in overdose deaths, the CDC said.
On Wednesday, Canada said it had also seen a jump in opioid deaths this year.
Experts said opioid users faced increased risk in part because of unemployment and homelessness during the pandemic.