FILE - prescription medication, drugs, opioid crisis, oxycodone

(The Center Square) – Fatal drug overdoses in Virginia hit a record-breaking high in 2020 with an increase of more than 40% from the previous year’s numbers, according to a report issued by the Virginia Department of Health.

In 2020, drug overdoses caused 2,297 deaths in the commonwealth, which is up 41.2% from the previous year’s 1,627 deaths. This is the most annual overdose deaths recorded in Virginia history, up substantially from the previous record high, which was set the prior year.

Total overdose deaths have more than tripled since a decade ago when the state’s total was 690. In 2016, the state saw its first initial spike when deaths increased from 1,028 to 1,428. Prior to the initial jump, the numbers were following the trends of vehicle- and gun-related deaths, but since that year, the numbers have remained substantially higher than those other causes of deaths.

At the time the VDH published the report, 75% of the state's deaths are still being investigated, which means the report is subject to change if additional drug overdoses are found.

Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that drug overdoses also hit a record high nationally. According to the VDH’s report, this year’s overdose fatality spike coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. The lockdowns led to job losses and banned certain gatherings and events.

Fentanyl caused or contributed to 72.1% of 2020’s fatal overdoses. Fatal non-opioid illicit drug overdoses are also on the rise: fatal cocaine overdoses increased by 33% from 2019 to 2020 and fatal methamphetamine overdoses increased by 94.4%.

Many fatal drug overdoses include a person taking two or more drugs that contributed to his or her death. This means the data will put certain deaths in more than one category, but the total death numbers count them as one death.

The VDH only includes deaths caused by drug use or when drug use contributes to a death. If a person has drugs in his or her system, but it did not contribute to his or her death, it will not be counted in the data.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.