The COVID-19 pandemic led to increase in mental health problems and substance misuse. Yet, little is known about its impact on rates of deaths of despair (death by suicide and drug overdose). Our objective was to determine the impact of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders on deaths of despair using population-level data. We hypothesized that the longer duration of stay-at-home orders would increase rates of deaths of despair.
Utilizing quarterly suicide and drug-overdose mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics from January 2019 through December 2020, we estimated fixed-effects models to examine the effects of the duration of stay-at-home orders as differentially implemented in 51 jurisdictions in the United States on each outcome.
Controlling for seasonal patterns, the duration of jurisdictional-level stay-at-home order was positively associated with drug-overdose death rates. The duration of stay-at-home orders was not associated with suicide rates when adjusting for calendar quarter.
Findings suggest an increase in age-adjusted drug-overdose death rates in the United States from 2019 to 2020 possibly attributable to the duration of jurisdictional COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. This effect may have operated through various mechanisms, including increases in economic distress and reduced access to treatment programs when stay-at-home orders were in effect.