HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WHLT) – More than 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is the highest annual death toll.

“By nature, the pandemic did make things worse globally for mental health systems and decreased resources for healthy ways to cope. So when you think about it in that perspective, it does make a lot of sense that these ineffective tools, they’re reaching for those when these other resources are more limited,” said Dr. Christina Williams with Pine Grove Mental Health. 

U.S. overdose deaths have risen most years for more than two decades. The increase began in the 1990s with overdoses involving opioid painkillers, followed by waves of deaths led by other opioids like heroin and — most recently — illicit fentanyl.

Last year, overdoses involving fentanyl and other synthetic opioids surpassed 71,000, up 23% from the year before. There also was a 23% increase in deaths involving cocaine and a 34% increase in deaths involving meth and other stimulants.

Families who have lost someone to a drug overdose said some businesses are sending mixed messages about drugs.

“We have five businesses in town that sell drug paraphernalia, and then at night, we pull people out of the back of a car and charge them with possession of drug paraphernalia, which they bought from an established business that we keep giving license to,” said James Moore with Moore’s Bike Shop.

Doctors said they believe the number of overdose deaths will go down as the works opens back up.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.