Overdose, Suicide and Pandemic Induced Stress

January 1st kicked off a new decade. It was time to open a new calendar and turn a new page.  The new year was supposed to be filled with possibility, adventures, and positive change.


The first lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported on January 22, 2020.


The event might not have hit your radar. You might have spent the first month of the year, and even most of February, moving along as you usually had. Life might have seemed pretty normal. Even as China started reporting more cases and more deaths and Italy was sending out reports of hospitals on overload, you might have been going out to eat with friends, planning for a big summer vacation, or thinking about starting college, looking for a new job, or buying a house. You might have been jumping into the sober life with both feet by going to treatment or attending your first AA meeting.


And then…


Puerto Rico and California were the first to issue stay-at-home orders in the 2nd week of March.  Between March and the end of April, every state in the Union and all US territories were under some form of mandatory or advised sheltering system. In other words, the world had turned. 2020 turned into a very very stressful year.


As of October 22nd, COVID-19 was the reported cause of 223,000 deaths in the US and 17,760 deaths in Texas. Deaths from COVID-19 are at the top of the headlines. Heart attacks, strokes, falls, accidents, and other physical crises haven’t stopped happening; folks are dying around the country from non-COVID related issues. Some of them die alone in their homes because they fear contracting the virus at hospitals. It’s all notably sad.  And scary.


But there’s something else going on behind the closed doors that shelter us from the virus. People are distressed, and it’s showing. According to a CDC survey, between June 24th and June 30th, 3 times more people reported Anxiety Disorders and 4 times more people reported Depressive Disorders than in the entire 2nd quarter of 2019. There was also a 26% increase in reported Trauma Stressor Related Disorders like PTSD.


In the same CDC survey, one in 10 people reported that they’d either started or increased their substance use. A Millennium Health survey provides a stark illustration. The company looked at 500,000 Urine Analysis (UA) tests before and after the shelter-at-home orders were issued in California.  Here’s what they discovered: After the shelter-at-home orders were issued,


  • There was a 31.96% increase in fentanyl use,
  • Methamphetamine use increased 19.96%,
  • Cocaine use increased 10.6%, and
  • there was a 12.53% increase in heroin use.


Sadly, all of this information is a lead-up to this fact: people are killing themselves. In July, the CDC Director, Robert Redfield said,


“There has been another cost that we’ve seen… We’re seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID. We’re seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose.”


The CDC survey in June showed that a larger percentage of people considered suicide during that single week in June than in all of 2018. Conditions in 2020 have been called  a “perfect storm” for suicide mortality. Drug overdose deaths, as Redfield said, are also on the rise. According to the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program, between March and May (before and after the shelter-at-home orders and advisories were issued), there was a 17.59% national increase in suspected overdose deaths.


It’s too early to get at hard numbers for 2020.  It’s too early to see just how many people have died by their own hands, whether accidentally via overdose or on purpose, but it’s not too early to prevent more deaths.  Awareness is one key to prevention.  Here are some common signs of pandemic-induced stress that you or someone you care about might be struggling with:


  • Fear, worry or lingering anxiety about your health and the health of your loved ones,
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating,
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns,
  • Worsening mental health conditions,
  • Increased use of substances, or
  • Worsening chronic health problems.

This is real.  Sure, we can say that life is full of stressors, but the truth is, 2020 has given us more than most of us have ever had to deal with at once. If you take nothing else from this post, please take this: there is no shame in reaching out for help right now. This is Hard. All of it.

Here are some resources that might be useful:

If you or someone you love has a diagnosed mental illness and needs non-crisis support, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill offers 24-hour connection through their helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI.  If you are in a crisis, you can text NAMI to 741741, and someone will reach out to you.

If you (or a friend) are thinking about suicide or worry that you might hurt yourself or someone you love, call 1-800-273-8255.  Someone is there to talk with you 24 hours a day, every day in both Spanish and English.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with a substance use issue, you can visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and use their treatment locator.  You can also contact us here at Luna Recovery Services via chat or by phone at 1-888-448-LUNA.