Unemployment claims in the United States since the Covid-19 outbreak has soared past 22 million. The financial strain the countrywide shutdown has placed on countless families and communities is obvious. Many corporations cannot operate at full strength and are forced to lay off thousands. Small businesses have seen revenue grind to a screeching halt. In turn, owners slash payrolls in an attempt to stay alive. Schools are closed, so parents can’t work. On and on the vicious cycle turns. No state or neighborhood is spared from the economic disaster coronavirus has become.
Besides the lives the virus has claimed directly, we are losing people in the wake of the financial fallout. Rising unemployment has always been an indicator of overdose and suicide rates. In today’s reality a peek at the numbers paint a grim picture. Data provided by the National Bureau of Economic Research along with the medical journal Lancet has shown that every one percent increase in unemployment likely causes a staggering hike of 3.3% in drug overdoses and a .99% jump in suicides. At the rate predicted by one prominent St. Louis economist from the Federal Reserve of 32% unemployment, this translates to over 77,000 shutdown related deaths.
John Hopkins University professor Stefanie Deluca brought out this stark reality.
“Unemployment will lead to increases in suicide, substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness and food insecurity. Thousands of people will die from these causes, and many more will be severely injured and traumatized for life.”
The situation has created a “grim tradeoff” between saving different lives, she said: “Saving the lives of those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 versus saving the lives of those who are most vulnerable to suicide, substance abuse and domestic violence.”
Social distancing and isolation have only added to these dangers. Disconnect and solitude for people struggling with mental health has been identified for years as correlating with drug abuse, suicide, and suicide ideation. It is very possible that death tolls from measures taken to fight coronavirus will exceed those of the virus itself.
People struggling with addiction have never been more at risk. Suicide ideation is already prevalent among this population. Risk is greatly increased with the challenges of lost paychecks and staggering isolation.
These are the facts. The questions that arise from this and possible solutions are where it gets thorny. Unbearable decisions need to be made and both sides of the argument are painful.
One thing is crystal clear. At this critical time, we cannot turn our backs on the drug and alcohol treatment industry and their facilities. Their work is essential and saving lives. The staff coming in to work are heroes. We must treat them as such. Those helping people in recovery need to be supported in every possible way. Any resources we can provide for them, we absolutely must.
It is our responsibility to plug the holes and ensure that nobody falls through the cracks. Human life is precious, whether at risk from a pandemic or from the ravages of drug and alcohol addiction. The first responders, ER staff, and those staffing treatment centers are all on the frontlines together. Let’s support them in any way we can.
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