CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — As the world begins to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re learning more about the collateral damage.

This week, NCDHHS leaders announced 2020 saw a rapid increase, 40%, of drug overdose deaths in North Carolina.

According to the NCDHHS, nine North Carolinians died every day in 2020 from a drug overdose.

“A single life lost to an overdose is a life we should have saved. Stress, loss of housing, and loss of employment for those in recovery caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a backslide in our fight against substance use disorders,” said NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. “Improving behavioral health and resilience is a top priority for NCDHHS, and we will rally our community partners and our team to meet these new challenges as we focus on saving lives, prevention, and the lasting supports needed for long-term recovery, including increasing the number of people with health insurance.”

In 2020 there were nearly 1,000 more deaths from overdoses than in 2019.

This stark increase came after 2018 saw the number of deaths from overdoses drop and then plateau in 2019.

But the loneliness and depression often associated with the early lockdown stages of the pandemic likely led to the huge increase in overdose deaths.

“It’s easy to cope with a substance. Because they make us feel better,” said Elizabeth Brewington with the NC Council of Churches, a faith-based organization that guides faith leaders on how to combat the opioid epidemic.

“So how can we check in on each other and make sure we’re holding up? Because it’s been a really hard two years.”

Of the 3,304 overdose deaths in 2020 in North Carolina, more than 70% likely involved illicitly manufactured fentanyl, according to the NCDHHS.

“We know that fentanyl has contaminated everything and people aren’t aware that fentanyl is in the drugs they’re taking,” Brewington said.

It’s not just drugs that people turned to in the pandemic.

A new report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows alcohol-related deaths jumped 25% in 2020 nationwide.

In fact, more people under 65 died from alcohol than died from COVID, according to the report.

State health leaders due express some optimism.

North Carolina received $750 million in a settlement with drug manufacturers.

Health leaders are hopeful that money will go to organizations that can increase treatment options for people suffering from substance abuse.