Substance misuse deaths jumped by 20% during first year of pandemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. — More people than ever are dying from substance misuse and overdoses.

A new study shows nearly 187,000 people died from combined deaths from drugs, alcohol, and suicide during the first year of the pandemic alone, which is a 20 percent increase in one year.

“The highest single year increase ever recorded,” said Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, President and CEO of Trust For America’s Health.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit along with the Well Being Trust released this latest “Pain in the Nation” report about these trends.

It shows overall drug related deaths jumped by 30 percent with higher rates among youth (17 years old and younger) and young adults (18-34 years of age) and in the South and West regions of the country.

“Whether it was being disconnected from school and doing remote learning...or having other issues in the family such as dealing with food insecurity or housing insecurity, couple all of that with the rising rates of turning to potentially drugs or alcohol to be able to cope and not having other coping mechanisms,” said Dr. Gracia.

The death rate was also higher for minorities.

Dr. Gracia says Black and brown communities face systemic inequities and have limited access to addiction services.

“In addition to the deaths and illnesses that happened from COVID-19 themselves that can create greater stressors on families [and] certainly increase what we see as the risk factors then for actually substance misuse and suicide themselves,” said Gracia.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are also pushing to increase prevention, but some are concerned about duplicating programs.

“We should support not undermine the residential and in patient options that will be the most appropriate place for certain patients to get help,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R – Washington.

Doctors also suggest bringing more mental health services directly to schools and working with community-based organizations.

“Actually developing and training in social and emotional learning in schools and providing greater resources to schools to be able to provide those services,” said Dr. Gracia.