Nonprofit: Pandemic-related stress could spur rise in deaths linked to alcohol, drugs, suicide

(Getty Images/iStockphoto/tuaindeed)

Mental health experts are concerned that emotional stress related to the coronavirus pandemic will exacerbate already rising numbers of deaths from drugs, alcohol and suicide.

Nationwide, alcohol deaths are up 4%, suicide deaths are up 2%, and death rates for all opioids are down 2%, but the death rate for synthetic opioids is up 10%, according to 2018 data released from the Trust for America’s Health, a D.C.-based health policy nonprofit.

“The estimates most recently are at least 75,000 additional deaths over the next several years that are correlated with what people are going through with COVID-19,” said John Auerbach, the nonprofit’s president and CEO.

“There was a 1,000% increase in April of this year in the people [reaching out to] the National Institute of Mental Health’s emotional distress hotline compared to last April,” Auerbach said.

About 20,000 people texted the hotline last month, compared with 1,790 texts in April 2019.

In the immediate D.C. area, death rates from alcohol, drugs and suicide overall is about level in Virginia, Auerbach said. But Maryland rates are increasing by about 3 to 4 % in all three areas.

This while suicide rates in D.C. are up 14%, and alcohol-related deaths increased 21%.

Now, with the U.S. in the grips of a pandemic, Auerbach fears things will get worse.

“We’re going to see increases in all three — drug, alcohol and suicide numbers,” Auerbach said. “We’re in an extraordinary situation now where we’re likely to see these numbers go through the roof as a result of COVID-19.”

You can find Trust for America’s Health policy recommendations on these issues online.

For free confidential crisis counseling, text SHARE to 741741.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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