New Jersey’s Other Pandemic: Substance Abuse, Overdose, and Mental Health Crisis

With over 66% New Jersey’s eligible population vaccinated against COVID-19 and death rates from the virus remaining low (despite a recent surge in cases of the Delta variant), people have been cautiously celebrating the decline of the pandemic. However, experts have warned of a deadly indirect effect of the pandemic—the toll it has taken on our mental health, particularly in young people.

Throughout 2020, the United States saw a 29.4% rise in fatal overdoses to 93,000—the largest one-year increase since at least 1999. Around 1,600 of these tragic deaths happened in New Jersey.

Additionally, there was also a rise in the proportion of emergency room visits for mental health concerns and substance use disorders between April and December of 2020. While the number of visits for these reasons are still relatively low, experts warn that usually only a small percentage of severe cases wind up in the hospital. This means that the increase in proportion of diagnoses probably means there are many more cases that are still untreated. Unfortunately, this problem is unlikely to disappear as the nation reopens unless people struggling with addiction get help.

Despite recent improvements to the accessibility of substance use and mental health treatment over the previous years, many Americans still do not get the help they need. In fact, less than 10% of Americans over 12 years old or older that are classified as needing substance misuse treatment actually received it, according to the 2019 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Unfortunately, the pandemic also made addiction treatment temporarily even less accessible, which is likely partially responsible for the spike in problem.

The mental health toll of the pandemic seems to have hit young people particularly hard in New Jersey—the number of people under 18 years old that were hospitalized for substance use cases almost doubled in 2020. The percentage of anxiety and depression cases of young people in emergency rooms followed a similar trend, with a 74% increase in anxiety cases and 84% increase in depression cases.

The pandemic seems to have had a serious effect on the mental health of healthcare workers as well. Anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnoses among healthcare workers have also spiked. Co-occurring mental disorders like the ones listed above are frequently diagnosed with addiction; about half the people treated for substance use disorder (SUD) have co-occurring disorders and vice versa, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

While addiction is a devastating disease, it is treatable. People suffering from addiction with co-occurring disorders can also recover, though this typically requires being treated for these conditions simultaneously.

Sunrise House is equipped to treat people of all different demographics and needs, with:

  • Medical detox to allow patients to withdraw safely and comfortably.
  • Rehabilitation treatment that builds patient’s skills to remain sober, repairs negative coping mechanisms, and includes treatment for co-occurring disorders when necessary.
  • Facilitation into aftercare programs, which help patients stay focused on their sobriety and build a supportive network that is conducive to sobriety.

Please reach out to an admissions navigator at to learn more about the care and treatment options provided at Sunrise House.

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