St. Louis area county sees spike in suicides, overdose deaths

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BELLEVILLE, IL (KMOX) - The COVID-19 crisis has brought sickness, death and economic hardship for many, but in one Metro East county it is also apparently contributing to a shocking increase in overdose deaths and suicides.

In 2019, St. Clair County saw 19 suicides. So far this year, it's already seen 18. Last year it recorded 82 overdose deaths. So far this year, its had 56, and is on pace to top 110.

County Coroner Office Manager Tina Sambo tells KMOX, stay-at-home orders are hard on people battling depression.

"Those people feel like they have nowhere to go and no one to talk to," Sambo says, "and drugs are an easy answer."

Mercedes Kent with the Gateway Foundation drug treatment centers says for those recovering from addiction, the pandemic is a relapse trigger. "People are thrust into poverty. They have idle time, boredom, isolation," she says. "With the stay at home order people are using alone." 

Kent says a key part of the recovery process, is being connected to other people. "To learn new ways to do things and being more social with a supportive network. When we have the inability to do that we're thrust back into our old behaviors and our old ways."

She adds that when people use alone, there is no one there to call for help or administer the overdose reducing drug Narcan. 

Meanwhile, Sambo says most of the overdoses are due to fentanyl, which is often mixed with methamphetamine. But in the rural parts of the county, she says. there's another disturbing trend. "You see more fentanyl or drugs that are combined with animal tranquilizers, veterinary drugs." 

While overdose deaths and suicides are spiking in St. Clair County, they're basically on pace with last year in neighboring Madison County. Coroner Steve Nonn says they've had four more suicides so far this year (12) than at this time last year (8). The county had 28 suicides all of last year.  

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