COVID-19 Death Toll May Be Worse Due to Overdose and Suicide

Further Tragedy can be prevented with Community-Based Solutions

paper boat in bowl of soup

Local communities must find new ways to meet the needs of those suffering today. We can change the outcome by creatively deploying effective, local community-based solutions.

With coronavirus deaths now over 70,000 Americans (that we know of), another deadly threat lurks in the background. As many as 75,000 more Americans could die because of drug or alcohol misuse and suicide as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to an analysis conducted by the national public health group Well Being Trust, reported CNN today.

The Well Being Trust projected this mortality rate based on data from past unemployment, isolation, and uncertainty of an end date for the pandemic. For example, in 2019 about 3.6 percent of workers were unemployed, and today, unemployment stands at 14.7 percent. Since April, 20.5 million jobs have been lost reported the New York Times.  Some economists are predicting this number to go to 20 percent.

During the Great Recession, the unemployment rate was also 15 percent, and during that time the United States saw some of the highest numbers in suicide and drug overdose (OD) deaths, reports CNN Health.

“Unemployment during the Great Recession was associated with an increase in suicide deaths and drug overdose deaths,” according to the Well Being Trust.

Suicide Already an Epidemic

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regularly releases the ten leading causes of death. Its most recent report listed suicide as the 10th leading cause of death for adults, and the second-leading cause of death for youths under the age of 18.

Therefore, when we consider the ongoing risk of the coronavirus epidemic, its devastating impact to our society goes well beyond the deaths associated directly with the virus.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) reports that the most vulnerable to suicide are those with mental health issues. Those who do not have access to care are at greater risk. Drug use also plays an important role, since substance abuse leads to impulsive and negative mood changes. Often, we cannot determine if an OD death is accidental or suicide.

Suicide and OD Deaths Are Preventable

When access to good and affordable care is available, the rates of overdose and suicide go down. SAMHSA’s suicide prevention research funding also shows that training, technical assistance, and evidence-based treatment lower death rates. 

Addressing the many major mental health issues facing Americans, including suicide and overdose, is important to our community health. Finding local or community programs with evidence-based treatment is a key solution in preventing addiction and suicide, according to SAMHSA.

“We’ve responded to the opioid crisis in this country as if it was only about opioids when, in reality, it’s driven by deeper issues associated with mental health, addiction, pain and suffering,” says Well Being Trust’s chief strategy officer Dr. Benjamin F. Miller. “Without a clear framework for comprehensively addressing mental health and addiction, we will continue to tinker and play whack-a-mole looking for solutions.”

Miller said it is necessary for local communities to find new ways to meet the needs of those suffering today. He warns that the risk of an additional 75,000 deaths during this time from suicide and overdose are based on what has happened in the past, and that we can change the outcome today. We can make this change by creatively deploying effective, local community-based solutions.

GET HELP Provides Community-Based Solutions

GET HELP has been actively working with our municipal partners, elected and appointed officials, homeless shelters, and service providers.

GET HELP has loaded city-sponsored emergency and crisis services into the GET HELP App, adding to the already rich database of 20,000 service providers and professionals in the Los Angeles area.

Specialized searches also can be found at GET HELP’s COVID-19 Resources, including emergency shelters, food banks, showers, LGBTQ resources, mental health services, senior grocery hours, hand-washing stations, and even resources for state legislators.

GET HELP’s Facility Management Platform as a Service (PaaS) is now being deployed in multiple homeless shelters around Los Angeles, as the city implements its own emergency response to COVID-19.

It Takes a Team to Produce Results

“A coordinated model is working in communities around the US,” writes GET HELP Advisory Board Chair, Lloyd Sederer, MD. “It takes a team to produce results, including judges, peer counselors, and treatment providers, as well as the clients themselves,” says Dr. Sederer.

This is reported further in A Circle of Care Is a Growing Standards in Recovery on the GET HELP website blog, which has specific elements, including:

  • Social service agencies working with treatment facilities.
  • Direct referrals to mental health programs.
  • Connecting people in recovery with sober living organizations.


GET HELP envisions a world where everyone can access quality mental health, homelessness, addiction, and other urgently needed services when they need it, in real time. If you would like to get involved, please contact us. We have products and services for municipalities, service providers, professionals, and the public. Let us know your area of expertise, and we will help direct you to the right resource.

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