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Drug Overdoses Down; Will COVID-19 Trigger a Spike in NH?

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. (tanya nova/Pixabay)
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. (tanya nova/Pixabay)
May 29, 2020

MANCHESTER, N.H. - Health policy groups worry that high unemployment rates from the new coronavirus pandemic could increase suicides as well as drug and alcohol abuse - already big problems in New Hampshire.

John Auerbach, president and chief executive of the nonprofit 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 this was after a tough ten years for New Hampshire, where these deaths more than doubled. Auerbach warns that unemployment due to COVID-19 could reverse progress made in reducing drug abuse.

"The loss of a job, unstable housing, a relationship breakup," he says. "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."

While the U.S. overall opioid death rate dropped slightly from 2017 to 2018, the death rate for synthetic opioids increased nationwide. New Hampshire had one of the highest death rates from synthetic opioids in 2018, accounting for more than 20% of overdose deaths in the state.

Their study also showed 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 believes the United States 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," he said, "where behavioral health is linked in with the physical treatment that they're receiving."

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

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - NH