Two non-profit organizations recently analyzed updated data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and found that deaths caused by suicide, drug overdose and alcohol rose by 6% in the year 2017, leading to an all-time high in the United States.
Altogether, drugs, alcohol, and suicide killed more than 150,000 people.
Ever since federal data collection started in 1999, the non-profit’s report claims there has never been a death rate this high attributed to these causes. A spike was observed in the national rate for deaths from alcohol, drugs, and suicide:
- Start of 2017- 9 deaths per 100,000 people
- End of 2017- 6 deaths per 100,000 people
On one hand, this is actually a slower increase than the previous two years. However, the difference was a lot over the average annual increase of 4% since 1999.
Opioid Death Rates
Probably the most obvious reasoning behind this increase would be the ongoing opioid crisis. One of the major contributing factors to the rising rates of overdose death in America is dangerous synthetic drugs making their way to the illicit market.
For one thing, deaths due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, rose 45 % in that time. In the past five years, these deaths have actually increased tenfold. Needless to say, lawmakers and public health officials have been scrambling for years to try and solve the overdose issue in the United States.
Suicide Death Rates
Since 1999, deaths from suicide have increased by 33%. The data for 2017 indicates a significant rise in death rates:
- Start of 2017- 9 deaths per 100,000
- End of 2017- 5 deaths per 100,000
This is an increase of 4%, which is double the average annual pace over the previous decade. More specifically, from 2008 to 2017:
- Suicide by suffocation increased by 42%
- Suicide by firearm increased by 22%
The highest suicide rates are typically in rural areas, including:
- West Virginia
- New Mexico
- New Hampshire
One thing to point out is that some researchers believe that suicides are actually under-reported. This may be in part due to the stigma surrounding mental disorders, but also largely due to mislabeling the cause of death. For instance, some cases may be recorded as overdoses or accidents that are actually intentional.
Alcohol Death Rates
As far as alcohol-related death rates are concerned, some suspect that higher proof alcohols becoming increasingly popular in the last decade has also contributed to health issues and deaths. In fact, between 2002 and 2013:
- The amount of how much alcohol Americans consumed only increased by 6%.
- Estimates to determine how much alcohol is typically drunk have remained the same.
- Health problems as a result of drinking spiked in the same time frame.
Meanwhile, some drinks have a dramatically higher alcohol-by-volume (ABV) percentage. Between 2002 and 2016, the average alcohol by volume grew across the board:
- Beer ABV increased an average of 2%
- Wine ABV increased an average of 6%
- Liquor ABV increased an average of 4%
According to another analysis by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, from 2007 to 2017:
- The number of deaths attributable to alcohol increased by 35%
- Deaths among women rose 85%
- Deaths among men rose 29%
One positive piece of data is that the study suggests teen drinking deaths actually decreased by 16%. Still, alcohol has contributed plenty to the rising death rates.
Addressing Underlying Issues
With the highest death rates due to drugs, alcohol, and suicide in recorded history, it goes without saying that a lot more needs to be done to promote treatment resources and prevention. With the failed War on Drugs has taught us what is not working, many have turned to strategies that focus on the preservation of life more than punishing those struggling with addiction. Harm reduction efforts like naloxone expansion and needle exchange programs have made some real progress. Some have even begun exploring the possibility of establishing safe injection sites.
Additionally, there needs to be more put into comprehensive treatment. Most experts agree there is a need for broader efforts to address the underlying causes of alcohol and drug use, and suicide. Having access to effective mental health care and addiction treatment resources can significantly impact the well-being of those most at risk. Long-term recovery offers those most likely to die as a result of drug use or suicide a way out.
This would also include more funding and support for programs that reduce risk factors. A major aspect of prevention when it comes to substance abuse and mental health has to do with trauma and adverse childhood experiences. Research has suggested there is a notable connection between the risk of drug and alcohol abuse and suicide and childhood trauma.
There were five states where death rates due to drugs, alcohol, and suicide decreased:
- Rhode Island
Hopefully, as new initiatives push forward to save lives and offer prevention, we will see more states with decreasing death rates. Overall, we can hope that better opportunities for treatment and support will lead to an improvement in public health. Meanwhile, raising awareness and education are crucial to turning this trend around.