In already-busy Genesis Medical Center emergency departments, staff members are beginning to notice an increase in one group of patients who do not have COVID-19 symptoms.

Genesis emergency department staff have observed higher numbers of patients who have behavioral health issues or have overdosed on, or are impaired by, drugs or alcohol, a news release said. Treating the patients takes staff attention and resources at the same time the staff are treating large numbers of patients with COVID-19 or other conditions or injuries.

Early national data shows the US may surpass last year’s numbers in 2020 for deaths from an overdose, which was 71,000 individuals.

People are feeling the pressure during the pandemic. Marty Carpenter, the director of behavioral health at Genesis, says more people are struggling with substances. 

“I think it’s just a perfect storm,” he said. “A lot of our healthy coping mechanisms are being taken away from us. I think there’s a natural tendency to turn towards substances.”

Isolation and stressors impact mental health, but he doesn’t believe everyone is seeking help because of COVID-19. 

“My guess is it’s going markedly under-treated right now because of people’s fear of exposure,” he said.  

For addicts, relapse is the reality for many Americans during the pandemic, with an estimated 22 million people at any given time are recovering from substance abuse. With support groups now happening online and other traditional recovery services being interrupted because of the pandemic, Todd Noack with Life Connections Peer Recovery Services in DeWitt said many recovering addicts are struggling. 

“It’s been really hard for them right now. They are wanting to turn back to that opioid or that drug of choice because their anxiety is through the roof,” he said. 

Ashlee Clifton is a recovering addict who stayed at the group’s peer respite house after a recent relapse. 

“I had ended up really down and out,” she said. “I suffered from some mental issues and ended up in the hospital for it.” 

She found help and hope by staying at the group’s peer respite facility Rhonda’s House, but knows others who have battled addiction during the pandemic. 

“I’ve seen a lot of my friends struggle in that manner,” she said. “When you have both mental illness and addiction, it’s really hard to stay focused.” 

Staying focused on staying well is why Carpenter said people should seek services. 

“It’s never too soon to reach out for help,” he said. 

Resources for those in need:

Mental-health and addiction resources are available in the region, including Genesis Psychology Associates. For information, call 563-355-2577. Also available are Robert Young Mental Health at 309-779-3000, Vera French Community Mental Health Center at 563-383-1900, and Center for Alcohol and Drug Services (CADS) at 563-322-2667.

Life Connections now offers virtual wellness services to anyone who needs them, which you can find information about on their website. You can reach their support line at (516-688-7484).

Other local mental health resources:

Iowans in need of assistance can contact the Iowa Concern Hotline at 800-447-1985 or go to, the Iowa Warm Line 844-775-9276