Report: No increase in suicides, drug overdoses in Utah despite pandemic

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Despite the COVID-19 pandemic throughout 2020, a new report shows there was no increase in suicides or drug overdoses in Utah.

The Utah Department of Health says their report shows the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Utahns’ mental health and behavioral health.

While the long-term consequences of the pandemic will take time to understand, according to UDOH, preliminary data shows there no significant increases in suicides, mental distress, or drug overdoses thus far.

Public health experts say they believe the state’s existing mental health and substance use resources may be an integral reason why suicides and drug overdoses haven’t increased.

“The pandemic has impacted Utahns in significant ways, yet this report shows Utahns are resilient,” says Gov. Spencer Cox. “Despite these difficult times, there is hope. We are not powerless to the difficult circumstances around us. I encourage all Utahns to continue to lift each other up and provide the support we all need during these challenging times.”

UDOH says the report shows drug overdose-related deaths remained stable throughout the first 39 weeks of 2020, coming in consistent with drug overdose death counts in 2019 and below drug overdose deaths in 2018.

“Years of statewide overdose prevention efforts have led to significant declines in opioid overdose death rates since 2016. It’s clear the efforts of prevention experts, policy makers, healthcare providers, state and local government officials, and every day citizens have helped us adapt and continue providing services to those in crisis,” says Cox.

Preliminary data from UDOH also shows the overall trend of suicide ideation and suicide attempts have remained stable in Utah.

For the first 39 weeks of 2020, the latest data UDOH says is available, the number of suicide deaths in Utah remained consistent with the previous three years.

“We have seen modestly declining suicide rates in Utah since 2017-18, despite suicide rates continuing to rise across the country. And, fortunately, the pandemic doesn’t appear to have impacted our progress,” says Amy Mikkelsen, suicide prevention coordinator at the UDOH.

Read the full report below:

UDOH highlighted other key findings of the report, including:

  • The number of drug overdoses reported to emergency departments remained stable through the first 50 weeks of 2020
  • Syringe service utilization increased in the first eight months of 2020 (compared to 2019), but this increase is likely due to the expansion of services across the state.
  • There was no significant difference in the rate of Utah adults reporting frequent mental distress from March through August of 2019 compared with the same time period in 2020 (13.5% and 13.4%, respectively).
  • Calls to the Suicide Prevention CrisisLine increased throughout the first 10 months of 2020, but this growth is similar to increases in previous years.
  • While there isn’t information available on an increased volume of domestic violence-related calls on a statewide level, anecdotal evidence from local law enforcement and victim service agencies seem to indicate an escalation of family violence.

“This data suggests that interventions and treatment during the pandemic have remained as effective as in previous years, even in the face of a sudden shift to primarily telehealth and services,” says Kimberly Myers, assistant director of the Utah Department of Human Services Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. “If you are struggling, get help. It’s safe to go to your doctor, urgent care, primary care provider, pharmacist, and therapist. Nearly every health care provider has the ability to meet with patients virtually.”

If you or a loved one are experiencing thoughts of suicide or crisis, help is available. Reach out and talk to a professional at the Utah Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255. The Live On campaign also provides resources and help for those struggling with suicidal thoughts, behaviors, or loss at https://liveonutah.org/. A list of mental health and substance use resources and providers can be found by contacting your insurance provider or visiting https://dsamh.utah.gov/ contact/location-map.

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