The DuPage County coroner is reporting an “unusual spike” in overdose deaths in the past month that may be tied to increased isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the last three weeks, 20 people in DuPage have died from opioid overdoses, Coroner Richard Jorgensen said in a statement. Some days saw multiple die from overdoses, he said.
By comparison, in all of 2019 the west suburban county saw 96 opioid overdoses.
“We do not know if this is due to a change in the makeup of the drugs, drug usage on the streets or due to current COVID-19 related changes in society,” Jorgensen said.
“After review of the social aspects of the recent deaths, many of those who died were living alone, having personal or marital difficulty, depression and recent drug rehab or treatment.”
Jorgensen said people dying of overdoses in 2020 are older on average than they were last year. He said there was no demographic pattern in the new fatalities, and that the overdoses were “found in all areas of the county.”
DuPage County State’s Attorney Bob Berlin warned that the effort to fight the opioid epidemic should not be lost during the response to the coronavirus.
“While we find ourselves in the midst of the deadly COVID-19 health crisis, it is important to remember that we are still facing a severe opioid epidemic that has claimed too many lives and must not be forgotten,” Berlin said in the statement.
The spike in overdoses may be related to increased isolation during the pandemic, according to Brad Gerke, co-founder of the nonprofit 516 Light Foundation.
“I have gotten an increasing number of phone calls from those with concerns and fresh relapses,” Gerke is quoted in the statement as saying.
“I think this is due to a lack of in person communication and lack of ability to be with people. This void of connection takes away the primary treatment methods which are critical aspect of rehabilitation and recovery. This COVID-19 environment leads to depression, anxiety, fear and worry about job security. This is all extremely difficult for addicts and those in recovery,” he said.
In his statement, Jorgensen asked the public to check in on people at high-risk of overdose.
“These are difficult times made worse when an individual has drug and/or mental health issues,” Jorgensen said. “We are all in this together and need to reach out to all of those who are vulnerable in this difficult time.”