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Some Fear that Opioid Deaths Might Rebound During Pandemic

As many as 75,000 Americans could die because of drug or alcohol misuse and suicide as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new study by Well Being Trust. (Adobe Stock)
As many as 75,000 Americans could die because of drug or alcohol misuse and suicide as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new study by Well Being Trust. (Adobe Stock)
May 28, 2020

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- The coronavirus pandemic has pushed unemployment rates in many states to record highs, and health policy groups worry it could mean an increase in suicides, drug and alcohol abuse.

John Auerbach, president and CEO of Trust for America's Health, says for the first time in two decades, U.S. deaths from drug overdoses, alcohol abuse and suicide leveled off in 2018.

But he warns that minority communities with lower wages typically report the highest numbers of preventable deaths. And unemployment due to COVID-19 could reverse progress made in reducing drug abuse.

"The loss of a job, unstable housing, a relationship breakup -- so, we know that the lower your income, the more likely that you're going to be experiencing those and at risk for these causes of death," he states.

The overall U.S. opioid death rate dropped by 2% from 2017 to 2018, but the death rate for synthetic opioids increased 10% nationwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in South Dakota, fatal drug overdoses decreased from 73 in 2017, to 57 in 2018.

A Trust for America's Health study did show a 51% increase in preventable deaths from drugs and suicide over the past decade. Auerbach says the pandemic could affect mental and behavioral health trends, and maintains the U.S. should be developing policies to prevent further deaths of despair.

"We need to make sure that people have easy access to high quality health insurance, where behavioral health is linked in with the physical treatment that they're receiving," he stresses,.

Auerbach says American Indians, Asians, blacks, Latinos and older adults all experienced increases in drug-induced deaths between 2017 and 2018.

Mike Moen/Scott Herron, Public News Service - SD