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The County of DuPage
Wheaton, Illinois

RICHARD A. JORGENSEN, MD, FACS
CORONER

DU PAGE COUNTY, ILLINOIS

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Public Safety Announcement: Surge in Overdose and Suicide Deaths Review First 6 Months of 2020.

Public Safety Announcement: Surge in Overdose and Suicide Deaths

Review First 6 Months of 2020.

On Wednesday, May 13, 2020 DuPage County Coroner Richard Jorgensen, M.D. reported on preliminary data indicating an alarming increase in overdose deaths in DuPage County. This Public Service Announcement is a follow up to that initial report with an in-depth review of all deaths due to overdose in the first six (6) months of 2020, during the onset of Covid 19 shelter at home compared to the same period in 2019.

These overdoses deaths are particularly difficult because they represent the premature end of a life, made worse by the fact that the majority of fatal overdoses occur in the young; they leave family, friends and community with grief and inevitable questions of “what if”.

A thorough investigation and review of every overdose case has been undertaken to understand the circumstances and cause of this rise in overdose deaths.  Personal, demographic and toxicological information was collected and reviewed to identify trends on who and how these overdoses occurred in the hope of fostering a better understanding of the problem and identifying potential solutions both on a personal and societal level.

Overdose Death Data: 

Overall Deaths 1/1/2019-6/30/2019 -46

Overall Deaths 1/1/2020-6/30/2020 -70 (52% increase)

Age

AGE <19     20-29     30-39     40-49     50-59     60-69      
    M F   M F   M F   M F   M F   Male Female  
All 1     25     20     10     9     5     70
                                       
PRE 0     6     4     2     4     1     17
COVID   0 0   6 0   3 1   0 2   3 1   1 0  
                                       
POST 1     19     16     8     5     4     53
COVID   0 1   16 3   10 6   7 1   4 1   2 2  

Pre Covid-19 Lockdown (76 days 42% of the time) = 17 overdoses

Post Covid-19 Lockdown (105 days 58% of the time) =  53 overdoses

Ethnicity:

 (Numbers in parenthesis are DuPage County census data)

Caucasian (77.9%):   #-56 = 78.2 % 

Black*        (4.6%)      #-6 = 8.7 % 

Hispanic   (13.3%):    # 5- =7.3 % 

Asian         (10.1%)     #-2 = 2.9 % 

* two of the African-American deceased were not residents of DuPage Co.

Sex:

Female =24%

Male      =76%

In summary, the number of overdose deaths have increased by 52% over the same period in 2019. The majority of this increase was during the “Shelter at Home” COVID-19 period. In Jan/ Feb the number of overdoses were less than 2019, so the large increase was more profound in looking at the next four months. There were 17 OD’s in the Pre-COVID time frame compared to 15 in the same time frame of 2019. During the COVID quarantine there were 53 deaths (30 during the same time frame of 2019). The age ranges continue to represent a majority of 20- and 30-year olds. However, there were 4 (four) persons in their 60’s. The ethnic background parallels the makeup of DuPage County as cited in the 2010 census report. As in all previous evaluation’s males were approximately 76% of those who died.

Dr Jorgensen stated “Evaluation of each case reveals a common thread. Almost every case of overdose revealed that the deceased person had a history of mental health issues, depression, personal, financial or marital problems, previous drug dependence or rehabilitation or were living alone. It is suggested by these findings that the most vulnerable in our society are being affected negatively by the COVID-19 shutdown and response to isolation and lack of treatment availability. I have reached out to multiple rehabilitation leaders and they confirm the increase in those seeking rehabilitation, drug use relapse and instances of fatal and non-fatal overdoses in their patients and community.”  

Nick Gore, a VP at The Indiana Center for Recovery stated, “We, and every other treatment facility that I know are filled to maximum capacity with long waiting lists. The quarantine has been devastating to those in treatment and continuing sobriety. Shelter at Home limits those in treatment and recovery the ability to meet with treatment professionals, sponsors or the society and companionship that is the bedrock for most treatment programs and continued sobriety.”

Dr Jorgensen contacted to State’s Attorney Bob Berlin to seek his perspective on this problem, Mr. Berlin stated, “The profound increase in overdose deaths documented by Coroner Jorgensen is a disturbing reminder that illegal narcotics continue to devastate our communities. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic we must continue to dedicate resources to combat the opioid epidemic and provide greater opportunities for treatment.”

Coroner Jorgensen reiterated his conclusions: “It appears that an unforeseen collateral consequence of the stresses of “Shelter at Home” which resulted in isolation, lack of community and companionship is taking its toll on the most vulnerable of our society. If you know of people who are at high risk: known drug users those in rehabilitation, persons living alone, having personal, financial or marital difficulty, mental health issues or depression, please reach out (you can still wear masks and social distance) and talk to them and see if they need companionship, support or help. These are difficult times made worse when an individual has drug and/or mental health issues. We are all in this together and need to reach out to all of those who are vulnerable in this difficult time.

Overview of Suicide Data for the same period will be published in a later Public Service Announcement.