Bringing Home the Elephant: The rise of at-home overdoses during quarantine

Bringing Home the Elephant: The rise of at-home overdoses during quarantine

Co-authored by Chris Kirby and Joanna Lilley

Hiding an addiction while under the same roof as family might have worked in the past, especially if only visiting for short periods of time.  With the sheltering in place, families have found their adult children returning home to temporarily stay safe from COVID-19.  But that order has lasted far longer than most folks originally anticipated.  There is no hiding now.  

While hospitals are trying to triage beds for those impacted by COVID-19, they are finding a tug-of-war situation for admits.  The beds are needing to be used to detox.  Those beds are needed for people who overdosed.  This is an unprecedented predicament that hospitals are in.  Pandemic aside, the risk of at-home overdoses will continue to raise as the unemployment rate skyrockets, and parents continue to fear letting their children leave home.  This can only continue to get worse before it gets better. 

Below you will learn about a story of a young man who had this exact story.  Luckily, he managed to get connected to The Last House in Los Angeles, California: 

Ryan’s sister started laughing when she heard what she thought was snoring coming from her brother while they were watching a movie at home. When she tried to wake him up she saw the saliva and foam coming from his mouth and realized he wasn’t sleeping, he was overdosing and the sounds he was making were his body struggling to breathe and stay alive.

Ryan and his sister Liz were home from College as the result of nationwide stay at home orders in response to the Covid–19 pandemic. Weeks before, Ryan was at The University of Arizona where his drug use and excessive drinking were easily masked by passable academics and a party atmosphere typical of college campuses. His parents had taken notice when his friends voiced concern about his drug use. They knew that he was recreationally using drugs and going to parties, but “that’s what all college kids do.”

Growing up in an affluent suburb of Los Angeles, California, there was nothing out of the ordinary about his regular use of marijuana. Ryan was well liked, athletically gifted and on a clear track to attend a major university. He also had a nervous disposition, rarely did his own laundry, and his immaculate room was kept that way by his mother.

Ryan survived his potentially fatal overdose thanks to his sister’s attention and the quick reaction of the local emergency services administration of Narcan, a common overdose reversal drug. This event in his family’s home was undeniable and precipitated his family to research drug treatment.

Unfortunately, Ryan’s story is not unique.  This incident is one of several similar cases at The Last House alone.  That in itself indicates a rise in familial awareness of their loved one’s substance use issues. Across the country college students returned home to finish their spring semester from home.  Chris Kirby, Admissions Director at The Last House even commented “We’ve seen an increase of young adults who returned  home from college during quarantine and overdosed at home where their family was then forced to confront their substance use problems.” 

To professionals working in the treatment industry, the warning signs were clear prior to the potentially fatal overdose.  But to families, their love sometimes can cloud the image that is immediately before them. For Ryan’s family, or any family is a similar situation to him, becoming familiar with the warning signs can be the difference between a life saved and a life lost.  Not familiar with the warning signs?  Here’s a short list:  

  • habitual drug use
  • adverse consequences 
  • Little-to-no remaining relationships due to lack of ownership and addiction taking over

Often the question we ask ourselves as professionals is “why don’t families call for help sooner?”  The answer to that is much simpler.  It is stigma.  Families may feel shame when their child can’t participate in or complete educational goals because of learning differences or drug abuse.  And if it’s not shame, it may be related to image and reputation, or worse, just not being aware.  Any of these scenarios can potentially be deadly as evidenced in Ryan’s situation and others like him. 

There is no harm in making a confidential call to professionals to get an assessment and opinion on early intervention. The phones are ringing, and we anticipate the rise of overdoses, DUI’s and emotional breakdowns related to substance use.  As a parent, if you can get your child connected now, do not wait until it gets worse. 

If you or a loved one is struggling and needs the advice, do not hesitate to reach out.  We are non-judgmental and want the best for your child.  That call could be the difference between life and death.  That’s not something you want to be thinking about right now. 

For questions and comments contact: 

Chris Kirby at 925-698-6797 and via email at

Joanna Lilley at 970-218-9958 or via email at 

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