York County reports record-number of drug overdose deaths in 2020 as “deaths of despair” surge nationally

York

YORK, Pa. (WHTM) — The CDC says “deaths of despair” have surged across the country, along with the rise of the coronavirus pandemic.

Suicides and drug overdoses are up nationally as people deal with the loss of loved ones and jobs.

But what about here in the Midstate?

The York County Coroner’s Office is still tallying the final numbers, but it’s already clear: 2020 saw a record number of drug overdose deaths in York County.

As York County’s coroner, Pam Gay knows as much as anyone about the causes of death, like COVID-19.

“I wasn’t really focused on the opiod overdoses increasing until I noticed that the pattern in March, April was continuing,” Gay said.

In other words, alongside the first COVID surge. In 2018, 156 people died of drug overdoses in York County. The following year, 141 deaths. Still, 141 too many–but an improvement.

But in 2020, at least 185 people died from drug overdoses. Nineteen additional cases involving possible drug overdose are still being investigated. That brings the 2020 total to potentially 200 drug-related deaths. Either way, a certain all-time record-high.

It’s not to say this is all because of the pandemic, though.

“We started to see an uptick in February before COVID,” Gay said.

But she said COVID likely, at the very least, exacerbated the trend. Pastor Adrian Boxley agrees.

“periods of increased stress, lack of sense of security,” Pastor Boxley said. “People are losing their jobs, and homelessness.”

He says it’s just too much for a lot of people.

“Emotional roller coaster, you know. One minute they’re high. The next minute they’re low[…] and as a result, they start self-medicating,” Boxley said.

One relative piece of good news: Deaths by suicide in York County actually declined in 2020–that goes against a national trend. But in terms of overall deaths of despair, the drop in suicide deaths wasn’t enough to offset the much larger surge in drug overdose deaths.

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