Arizona doctors COVID-19 impacts on mental health as overdose deaths rise

Arizona doctors COVID-19 impacts on mental health as overdose deaths rise
This graph shows overdose deaths in Pima County from 2019 to 2020. (Source: KOLD News 13)

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - COVID-19 is taking a toll on mental health and overdoses are on the rise. Arizona healthcare providers are seeing an increase in people with depression and anxiety in recent months. 

“Part of maintaining sobriety and abstaining from substances is a sense of community and with social isolation, that’s just not possible,” said Dr. Rogelio Samorano, the director of Psychiatric Services at El Rio Health.

Family physician Dr. Natasha Bhuyan at One Medical in Phoenix said she’s seen an increase in requests for depression and anxiety-related medications.

"That physical distancing, that social isolation, it is taking a toll on people," Bhuyan said.

Samorano said people seemed very resilient at the beginning of COVID-19 but he’s seen a change as time has gone by.

"Patients telling me they're struggling with cravings, especially our patients who have a history of substance use disorders," he said.

Feelings of isolation are being combined with fear of the unknown.

“Am I going to be able to have stable housing, am I going to be able to put food on the table and all of that just snow balls,” Samorano said.

Pima County data shows an increase in overdose deaths since March of this year. A graph with data pulled by the Community Mental Health and Addiction Program shows 23 deaths in March, 31 in April and 35 in May.

The county said June and July aren’t included because the data is incomplete, however, based on 2020′s numbers, it’s on pace to exceed last year’s total deaths.

In a time of uncertainty, mental health experts say to shift your attention to things you can control.

"I can focus on my own health, I can go for a walk, I can do meditation, I can look into online support networks, reach out to family and friends," Samorano said. "Those are the things we can control and do something about."

For immediate help call the Crisis Hotline at (520)-622-6000. The Hope Warm Line is a non-emergency, confidential option at 520-770-9909 that can be called to talk about life challenges, concerns and learn about mental health resources.

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