On the Sunday morning sidewalk
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned
'Cause there's something in a Sunday
Makes a body feel alone.
"Sunday Morning Coming Down" - Kris Kristofferson
Twenty-six people in Connecticut died of overdoses on the four Sundays of this past April. Twenty-one males. Five females. One was aged 15-24, eight were 25-34, six 35-44, four 45-54, five 55-64, one 65-74. I don't know their names, what kind of lives they lived, or who they loved. Twenty-six deaths was the most fatal overdoses on any day of the week in a month so far this year.*
I don't believe people overdose deliberately. But I believe some overdose deaths are unintentional suicides of despair. The person using the drugs knows that the amount of drug they are doing at the time may lead to their death, but they are so sick and forlorn and tired, and often so deeply alone, that they throw an extra bag or two in the cooker in hopes the pain will go away and that they will escape into a bliss they have not known for a long time.
On March 21, 2020, Connecticut shut down the state due to COVID. That move undoubtedly saved countless lives as Connecticut was able to eventually get some semblance of control (at least in the first wave) of the rapidly escalating pandemic. Unfortunately, some of these twenty-six may have been collateral damage.
In a blog post, Fatal Overdoses, written last April, I discussed the possible reasons we might see increased overdose deaths.
Established drug supply lines experience disruptions that force users to buy from unfamiliar sources, increasing their chances of overdosing.
Training and substance outreach programs are either closed or have limited hours. Some have moved on-line, which is okay if you have a home and a computer. Not so much if you are displaced.
People may not have access to the help they need as well as reduced access to naloxone and clean needles.
Isolating people with existing mental health issues may lead former users (with now lowered tolerance) to return to substance use.
The increased release of prisoners with a history of drug use puts them at risk for overdose due to their lack of tolerance.
Patients with undiagnosed COVID-19 may be less resilient if they do overdose due to reduced respiratory capacity.
And people without work, with increased economic and social pressures, may seek escape.
I wrote about talking with Mark Jenkins, the head of the Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition, about a homeless woman who I found dead on a mattress in a vacant apartment that she had found a way into. She had been a regular at his drop-in center, and they were all mourning her passing. Mark told me that day how worried he was. Now in this time of COVID we are telling people to isolate, he said, to distance themselves, which is opposed to everything we have told the substance use community in the past. Come together, look out for each other, there is safety in groups.
In total, April in Connecticut saw 133 overdose deaths, 56% more than the previous April, and as many as would die later in July 2020, a month that is historically one of the highest (unlike April) for overdose deaths.
Connecticut is on pace in 2020 for 1400 people to die of overdoses-- an increase of 200 deaths (17%) over 2019.
I hope that as the chaos clears from the election as it seems to be with an emerging Biden presidency and a continuing Republican Senate, that Democrat and Republican can come together and put vitriol and power struggles aside and start working for the people again, start looking out for our most vulnerable.
Address this crisis. Recognize Addiction is a Disease and Treat it Medically. End the Stigma. Embrace Harm Reduction.
Bring our brothers and sisters in from the cold. No one should be alone in this great country of ours. We take care of our own. We are our brother's keepers.
*Not counting July, a month known for higher overdose deaths, when there were 27 deaths over five Fridays.
Data from Connecticut Department of Public Health
Drug Overdose Deaths in Connecticut 2015-2020
(Accessed November 5, 2020)