New data finds one American is dying from alcohol, drugs and suicide every four minutes — that’s the highest number recorded so far.
In an issue brief released earlier this week from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Well Being Trust, researchers report that in 2016, 142,000 Americans lost their lives to alcohol- and drug-related deaths or suicide, which is about the same number of Americans who died that same year from stroke. In addition to the record number, the pace of growth hit a new high too, with an 11 percent increase in such deaths between 2015 and 2016. In comparison, death rates from heart disease and cancer — two of the nation’s leading causes of death — declined during that time period. Findings in the report are based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
Getting into the specifics, researchers found that while drug overdoses remained highest among whites, black Americans experienced a disproportionately large increase of 39 percent in drug-related deaths between 2015 and 2016. Previously, blacks experienced much lower numbers of drug deaths, at a rate about 35 percent lower than whites. Deaths from synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, doubled from 2015 to 2016 to 19,400 and were the primary force behind the dramatic rise in drug-related deaths.
Geographically, the Northeast and Midwest experienced the largest increases in alcohol, drug and suicide deaths, with six states and Washington, D.C., reporting rates that increased more than 20 percent.
“The substantial rise in deaths in 2016 puts the country past the ‘worst case scenario’ projection trajectory,” according to the report. “If deaths continue to grow at the similar rates as from 2015 to 2016, deaths could top more than 2 million in the coming decade.”
Among opioid-related deaths, deaths from synthetic opioids doubled between 2015 and 2016 — rising 718 percent in the last decade — surpassing deaths from heroin and more common prescription opioids. Opioid deaths that didn’t involve synthetics actually dropped 3 percent in 2015-2016. Deaths related to synthetic opioids increased among just about every population group and geographic region. Hispanics and Asians experienced disproportionate increases in opioid death rates — similar to black Americans — at 35 percent and 41 percent, respectively.
In 2016, 34,900 Americans died from alcohol-related causes, with such deaths increasing about 4 percent every year in the decade prior to 2016, according to the report. Such deaths were highest among men, whites, adults ages 45 to 64, and people living in the American West.
About 45,000 Americans died from suicide in 2016 — that’s more than the number of people who died that same year in traffic crashes. Suicide rates have been slowly going up in the last decade, increasing an average of 2 percent annually. Girls ages 10 to 14 experienced a particularly big increase in suicide from 2007 to 2016, though their rates were still low compared to the general population. In 2016, suicide rates among blacks and Hispanics increased more than any other demographic group.
West Virginia, New Mexico and Alaska had the highest rates of alcohol, drug and suicide deaths; Texas, Mississippi and Nebraska had the lowest.
The report recommended a number of ways to address the growing public health crisis, noting these are “complicated and far-reaching problems that require a wide range of policies, practices and programs in response.” Among the recommendations, initially outlined in the 2017 TFAH report, “Pain in the Nation,” are: promoting responsible opioid prescribing; expanding the availability of overdose reversal drugs, sterile syringes and diversion programs; prioritizing integrated mental health care models in rural and under-served urban areas; expanding suicide intervention services; and scaling up school-based services that promote resiliency and well-being.
“For each of these deaths, many more Americans are affected, either directly or through family and friends,” said John Auerbach, president and CEO of TFAH, in a news release. “These new data demand policymakers rethink what communities are affected and what multi-sector strategies are needed to address these three epidemics. We must ensure that funding, programmatic efforts and policies are directed to all the people and communities in need. The solution is a comprehensive National Resilience Strategy to combat the deaths from despair.”
For a copy of the new issue brief, visit TFAH.