In 2020, the year that was pummeled by the coronavirus pandemic, New Jersey recorded an increase in the number of deaths caused by alcohol and drugs. But the number of suicides dropped significantly compared to the year prior.

According to a report released on Tuesday by Trust for America's Health, alcohol, drugs and suicide accounted for 186,763 deaths across the U.S. in 2020.

"We saw an unprecedented increase in these deaths, up by 20%, which is the highest one-year increase that's ever been recorded," said Nadine Gracia, president and CEO of the healthy policy organization.

The COVID-19 emergency not only delivered direct deaths caused by illness, Gracia said — there were many indirect effects that led to eventual deaths, such as depression, social isolation, grief, and loss of employment.

"All of these factors can contribute to a sense of sadness and hopelessness, and a loss of the ways to be able to cope," she said.

At the same time, she noted, the initial shock of the pandemic caused disruptions in the delivery of mental health services.

New Jersey in 2020, according to the report, recorded 826 alcohol-induced deaths. The rate represented a 26% jump from 2019. Drugs were responsible for 2,921 deaths in 2020; the rate climbed 2% from the year prior.

The suicide rate dropped in New Jersey by 12% in 2020 compared to 2019. The nation as a whole recorded a 3% suicide decline. New Jersey recorded 679 suicides in 2020, the report finds.

According to the report, suicide rate declines were focused among adults ages 35 to 74, while suicide rates among youth and older adults were unchanged, and rates among young adults ages 18 to 34 increased.

According to Gracia, preliminary nationwide data suggest that the death totals could be even greater in 2021.

New Hampshire was the only state in 2020 not to record an increase in the combined count of deaths caused by drugs, alcohol and suicide.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

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