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The Alcohol-Related Deaths in 2020 Are Just Tragic, and the COVID Lockdowns Did Not Help

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File

Last Friday, a study provided some eye-opening numbers about the pandemic, and we're not talking about people who died as a result of the Wuhan coronavirus. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), more Americans under 65 died from alcohol-related causes than of the virus in 2020.

As the study mentioned, those alcohol-related deaths accounted for 99,017 people total in 2020, with 74,408 of them being under 65 years old. That same year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 377,883 people died from the virus. However, 72,401 of them were under 65. 

It's worth noting that the CDC has admitted to overcounting Wuhan coronavirus deaths, though, as Guy and Katie have covered. 

The study highlights how these alcohol-related deaths went up significantly from 2019 to 2020, by 25.5 percent. It also mentions fentanyl. "Opioid overdose deaths involving alcohol as a contributing cause increased from 8,503 to 11,969 (40.8%). Deaths in which alcohol contributed to overdoses specifically on synthetic opioids other than methadone (eg, fentanyl) increased from 6,302 to 10,032 (59.2%)." 

Fentanyl overdoses have hit record highs, as Spencer reported last November, with Leah covering last December how they've become the number one cause of death among adults ages 18-45.

The study's discussion has more telling points, including the "hidden tolls of the pandemic" from alcohol:

The number and rate of alcohol-related deaths increased approximately 25% between 2019 and 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rates increased prior to the pandemic, but less rapidly (2.2% mean annual percent change between 1999 and 20174). The rate increase for alcohol-related deaths in 2020 outpaced the increase in all-cause mortality, which was 16.6%.

Previous reports suggest the number of opioid overdose deaths increased 38% in 2020, with a 55% increase in deaths involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.5 There were similar increases in the number of deaths in which alcohol contributed to overdoses of opioids (40.8%) and, specifically, synthetic opioids (59.2%).

Deaths involving alcohol reflect hidden tolls of the pandemic. Increased drinking to cope with pandemic-related stressors, shifting alcohol policies, and disrupted treatment access are all possible contributing factors.1 Whether alcohol-related deaths will decline as the pandemic wanes, and whether policy changes could help reduce such deaths, warrants consideration.

Though it's briefly mentioned at the end of the study's discussion, the concept of "disrupted treatment" could have played a major role, and not just when it comes to alcohol.

In covering last November how Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) halted "elective" surgeries, Katie also highlighted remarks made by Dr. Benjamin Domb, an orthopedic surgeon who warned that people were forgoing care and missing out on necessities such as cancer screenings, for instance. 

Last month, Patricia Kine for Military.com noted that several veterans groups had released a report calling for at least $23 billion more than what's been allotted in the budget, which would amount to a 20 percent boost for fiscal year 2023, when it comes to the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

"Most of the increase would go to health care provided by the VA and civilian providers to cover the cost of care deferred during the COVID-19 pandemic. With many patients delaying treatment or doctors' visits because of the pandemic, the report anticipates a surge of more complicated and expensive medical care as patients return to routine medical appointments," Kine wrote. 

Last month, Lindsey Tanner for the Associated Press covered how "Pregnancy-related deaths climbed in pandemic’s first year," which is particularly bad and getting worse for Black women. 

"The coronavirus could have had an indirect effect. Many people put off medical care early in the pandemic for fear of catching the virus, and virus surges strained the health care system, which could have an impact on pregnancy-related deaths, said Eugene Declercq, a professor and maternal death researcher at Boston University School of Public Health," Tanner acknowledged at one point, though that doesn't sound too "indirect."

The Wall Street Journal also did a harrowing deep dive into the work of primary care physician, Dr. Christine Hancock. From that piece:

When the pandemic started, Dr. Hancock believed it would be a calamity for her patients, many of whom suffered from health conditions that made them vulnerable. She was right, but not for the reasons she thought. In the end, the pandemic’s worst victims weren’t those who had worried her most in the spring of 2020. And they weren’t sickened by Covid-19 itself.

The biggest impact, which became clear only this year, came instead from other health problems that worsened amid the loneliness and stress of the pandemic.

"Democrats like Joe Biden don’t care about the devastation they have caused families across the country, and want people to forget they are the ones responsible. Americans will remember and hold them accountable at the ballot box this November," said Andrew Brennan, the RNC director of faith communications, in a statement about the JAMA study. 

These finds on alcohol are consistent with other studies. 

Another JAMA Study, which was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and published on September 29, 2020 found that " Nielsen reported a 54% increase in national sales of alcohol for the week ending March 21, 2020, compared with 1 year before; online sales increased 262% from 2019."

"These data provide evidence of changes in alcohol use and associated consequences during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to a range of negative physical health associations, excessive alcohol use may lead to or worsen existing mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression,6 which may themselves be increasing during COVID-19," the study noted in part in its discussion section. 

Fast-word to the following September, when Grace Hauck for USA Today covered the findings of a survey from The Harris Poll, which found that 17 percent of respondents, compromised of 6,006 U.S. adults, reported "heavy drinking" in the previous 30 days. A whopping 87 percent of them were not in treatment, though. 

"Dr. Neeraj Gandotra, chief medical officer at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said the study's findings were "not surprising." Almost 90% of individuals with substance use disorder are not in treatment, and alcohol and drug use typically worsen with isolation, Gandotra said," Hauck added. 

Making such tragedies of the pandemic that come with isolation all the worse is that, as Leah also reported early last month, a Johns Hopkins study found that "lockdowns have had little to no effect on COVID-19 mortality," and in the U.S. and Europe, "only reduced COVID-19 mortality by .2% on average."

And yet as Matt warned earlier this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci still thinks we may have to go through them all over again, should the inevitable new strain force such lockdowns. With any hope, Fauci will actually listen to the science this time. 

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