The long-held fear that social isolation and the depressed economics of the coronavirus lockdowns would lead to more suicides has not materialized, at least in Chester and Montgomery counties.
The same with fears of a surge in drug overdoses as an unintended consequence of COVID-19 policy. Instead of a spike, overdoses in the two counties are up slightly, too small an increase to discern if the pandemic lockdowns are responsible.
For example, data obtained from the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office show that in 2020, the county has seen an average of 8.4 suicides per month from the beginning of the year through August.
That number tracks with the average monthly suicide rate of 8.3 per month in 2018 and is actually lower than the 2017 and 2019 averages of 9.6 and 10, respectively.
Accidental drug deaths in Montgomery County are up slightly. In 2017 and 2019, the average number of overdoses there hovered at about 17.8 per month. Through August of this year, the average number of overdose deaths per month climbed to 19.2.
While that does represent an eight percent increase from the prior year, it does not show the double-digit increases many feared could happen as a result of the lockdowns. And the highest number of overdoses for any single month, 24 in May, is still less than the 26 seen in two other months from 2017 and 2019.
In Chester County, the number of drug overdoses per month is up, but again only marginally. Through the first eight months of the year, the county has seen an average of 10.6 accidental drug deaths, up from the 8.6 of the year before.
However, that figure is still a noticeable drop from 2017 when the county witnessed an average of 12 overdoses per month.
Chester County is also seeing an average of five suicides per month thus far in 2020, right in line with the monthly averages of the prior three years.
Because toxicology reports can sometimes take weeks or months, it is possible the overdose data is incomplete. The data available from Montgomery and Chester did not have any further breakdown in terms such as race or age.
In Philadelphia, the number of overdoses has remained relatively flat, but at the same time there has been a shift in the demographics of the victims.
“[B]etween March 23, the day Philadelphia’s lockdown started, and June 30, 147 Black residents died of overdoses, compared with 119 overdose deaths among white residents and 47 among Hispanic residents,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Health officials told the paper that that while “overdoses have been increasing among people of color in Philadelphia for some time, the demographic shift that took place during the pandemic is unprecedented.”
In October the Centers for Disease Control released new data showing drug overdose deaths were up 10 percent nationally for the first three months of 2020.