Thursday, December 3, 2020

COVID-19 Could Compound Holiday Suicides, Drug Overdoses

Posted By on Thu, Dec 3, 2020 at 10:44 AM

click to enlarge JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks

State health officials hope to stem annual winter holiday suicide and drug overdose rates that could be compounded this year with the stresses of COVID-19.

The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) and Tennessee Department of Health (TDOH) launched ResilienTN this week. The program is focused on strengthening community connections to give Tennesseans “tools and knowledge to overcome the personal challenges they face, watch out for and help those around them, and emerge on the other side stronger than ever.”

Drug overdose deaths rose 15 percent in Tennessee last year, from 1,818 in 2018 to 2,089 in 2019. Health officials say overdose deaths in 2020 are on track to exceed 2019 overdose deaths. Much of these are attributed to illicit fentanyl and psychostimulants, a category that includes methamphetamine. Nonfatal opioid overdoses, especially among adults age 18-44, have also increased in 2020, peaking during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
click to enlarge The opioid fentanyl can be 100 times more potent than morphine. - DEA
  • DEA
  • The opioid fentanyl can be 100 times more potent than morphine.

Suicide rates in Tennessee were 16 percent higher than the national average in 2018, the most recent full year of statistics. That year, 1,159 Tennesseans took their own lives. Suicide deaths are most common for adults aged 25-64 here. But suicide is now the third leading cause of death for youth and young adults aged 10-24 in Tennessee.

“By drawing attention to the tragic loss of life through overdose and suicide in our state, we are hoping to encourage Tennesseans to draw upon the resilience they have inside themselves, their families, workplaces, and communities to prevent another family from feeling that pain,” said TDMHSAS Commissioner Marie Williams.
Health officials in the state worry that the climate around the COVID-19 pandemic may worsen the rise in overdoses traditionally associated with the winter holidays and could also result in increased deaths from suicide.

The ResilienTN campaign will feature social media outreach and virtual training in overdose reversal and suicide prevention. Other events will focus on addiction recovery efforts on college campuses and suicide prevention among those struggling with substance use. A calendar of events and other resources is available at

“We know many Tennesseans are struggling with the challenges this year has thrown at us, and we want to remind everyone that resources are available to provide support when we or our loved ones need it to keep moving forward,” said TDOH Commissioner Lisa Piercey. “Every death from suicide or overdose is preventable, and we’re proud to join our partners in this important effort to save Tennessee lives.”

Anyone needing a referral to addiction treatment services can call or text the Tennessee REDLINE at 800-889-9789. For a mental health crisis or someone considering suicide, call the Statewide Crisis Line at 855-CRISIS-1 (855-247-7471).

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