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Health experts say nearly 100,000 overdose deaths have been recorded since the start of the pandemic. Doctor believe the rise is the result of overwhelming mental health issues caused by the pain of isolation during lockdown.

For some, COVID-19 is having a fatal impact on people who have never tested positive for the disease.

Amid the pandemic, some turned to drugs and alcohol in isolation during lockdown. Others who were already battling addiction fell back into substance use as they were overwhelmed with depression and anxiety.

“We are obviously seeing a crisis in terms of overdose deaths, but that is just one piece of this. We are also seeing mental health crisis,” said Dr. Deepali Gershan, addiction psychiatrist with Compass Health.

Nearly 21,000 more people died in 2020, many accidental overdoses, as people sought to escape the pain of the pandemic. 

“Social isolation, also isolation of people in the home whether it be spouses or family members. There were other factors in terms of access to treatment. Even if they could access treatment, they did not feel comfortable accessing treatment because of health concerns,” Dr. Gershan said.

In Illinois, the numbers follow closely with the national average of a 29% increase. Here in 2019, there was 2,687 overdose death. That number rose to 3,511 in 2020. That’s 824 more fatalities, a jump of 30.7%. The greatest increase across the country occurred in Louisiana, with 53.2% more people succumbing to overdose. Only one state, South Dakota saw a decline, down nearly 5%. 

“This was happening nationwide,” Dr. Gershan said.

A major factor: Fentanyl. 

“Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine, it’s 50 times more potent than heroin,” Dr.Gershan said. “I think what’s important to know is it’s not just showing up in heroin to make it appear or feel more potent It’s getting put into cocaine and methamphetamines.”

Health experts say a solution is to focus on mental health and addiction treatment as fervently as medical professionals are targeting covid. 

“It’s not just mental health providers seeing an increase in people trying to access care at this point,” Dr.Gershan. “This is also falling on primary care providers, pediatricians. All healthcare providers being impacted by this because people are going to those they trust and have a relationship with the most. 

“If there was ever a time to get treatment for mood and anxiety disorders, this would be the time to do it.”

If you or a loved one are in crisis, 24-hour helplines are available:

Substance abuse and mental health services administration: 1-800-662-HELP. 

The national helpline provides 24-hour free and confidential referrals and information about mental and/or substance use disorders, prevention, treatment, and recovery in English and Spanish. 

For additional resources, contact the National Alliance for Mental Illness by clicking here.