There were more “substance misuse” deaths across the country during 2020 than in any other single year, according to a report from a nonprofit, nonpartisan group, though Iowa’s numbers were slightly less grim.

Rhea Farberman, policy research director at Trust for America’s Health, says Iowa’s overall figures were slightly below the national average. “Your deaths in Iowa were unfortunately up for 2020,” Farberman says. “That’s not unexpected. The deaths were up nationally as well. Iowa had 1,457 state residents die due to alcohol, drugs or suicide in 2020. That’s up 18% for the state, close to the national increase which was 20%.”

Deaths associated with alcohol, drugs and suicide took the lives of more than 186,000 Americans in 2020, what the report says is a 20% one-year increase in the combined death rate. Farberman says most of Iowa’s results were under national figures, but there were still tragic increases. She adds, “behind each of these statistics is a grieving family.”

“Your alcohol deaths are up by 30%, your drug deaths are up by 22%,” Farberman says. “Suicide deaths were the one bright spot in the data. They were down 8% in the state for the year.” The stresses brought on by the rise of COVID-19 are being blamed for some of the records numbers, but she says that’s not the only reason for the increase in deaths.

“Certainly the pandemic added to these trends and exacerbated these trends, but it’s important to remember that we’ve had large increases in the number of these what we call deaths of despair, deaths due to alcohol, drugs and suicide for over a decade,” Farberman says. “So we had a serious problem before the pandemic and the pandemic certainly made it much worse.”

The pandemic brought anxiety, stress, grief and financial hardship to many, and it also led to a disruption in substance misuse recovery programs. “It’s important to remember that we had a problem before COVID,” Farberman says. “Just the end of the pandemic alone is not going to solve this problem. We do have some preliminary data for 2021 that indicates the drug overdose deaths are continuing to rise.”

The first year the report was issued, 2018, there were more than 55,000 deaths nationwide attributed to drugs, alcohol and suicide. For 2020, that figure more than tripled to nearly 187,000. See the full report at: