TFAH, WBT Find Deaths from Alcohol, Drugs, and Suicide Reach Historic Highs

This week, the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Well Being Trust (WBT) released results of a new analysis of mortality data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), finding that more than 150,000 Americans died from alcohol- and drug-induced causes and suicides in 2017. This amount is more than twice as many deaths caused by the same methods in 1999. From 2016 to 2017, the combined death rate for alcohol, drug, and suicide increased six percent from 43.9 to 46.6 deaths per 100,000 people.

Although this rate is at a historically high level, the increase is lower than the prior two years when there were 11 percent and seven percent increases for 2015 to 2016 and 2014 to 2015, respectively. The TFAH and WBT analysis found that certain groups of Americans and certain areas were disproportionately impacted; among the findings:

  • Among those age 35-54, the death rate by alcohol, drug, and suicide was 72.4 per 100,000, which is the highest among all age groups
  • For all males, the death rate was 68.2 deaths per 100,000; for all females, the rate was 25.7 deaths per 100,000
  • Regionally, 91 West Virginia residents and 77 New Mexico residents per 100,000 died from alcohol, drugs, and suicide. On the low end, 31.5 Texas residents and 34.1 Mississippi residents per 100,000 died from alcohol, drugs, and suicide.

The analysis goes on to further examine the trends in increasing suicide rates, including a significant uptick in suicides by suffocation/hanging and firearm. These rates were proportionally higher among younger people (particularly adolescents), Blacks, and Latinos. However, absolute suicide rates remained highest among males, Whites, and those living in rural areas.

Synthetic opioid deaths were found to have increased 10-fold over the past five years, including a 45 percent increase between 2016 and 2017. The analysis finds that Americans are now dying at a faster rate from overdoses involving synthetic opioids than they did from all drugs in 1999. Synthetic opioid deaths were highest among males, Blacks, Whites, adults ages 18-54, and those living in urban areas. The American West had relatively low rates of synthetic opioid deaths.

The full TFAH and WBT analysis underscored that the life expectancy decreased for the third year in a row in 2017 due in part to the significant increases in death rates from alcohol, drugs, and suicide. The increases in death from synthetic opioid overdoses and suicides were particularly alarming, according to the analysis.

TFAH details a number of recommendations for prevention and resiliency strategies, including expanding substance misuse prevention programs, promoting hard reduction and treatment activities, limiting access to lethal means of suicide, and expanding crisis intervention and support for at-risk populations. The full report, an update to TFAH’s Pain in the Nation series, is available here.