Deaths From Alcohol, Suicide & Overdose Reach Record High

By Kelly Burch 03/07/19

Suicide, drug overdose and alcohol now kill more than 150,000 Americans annually. 

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emergency room doctors pushing a gurney down the hall

Deaths from suicide, drug overdose and alcohol have reached an all-time high in the United States. 

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed by two non-profit organizations revealed that deaths attributed to those causes rose 6% in 2017, USA Today reported.

Those factors are now responsible for 46.6 deaths per 100,000—killing more than 150,000 people each year, according to U.S. News and World Report.

In 2017, deaths from suicide rose 4%, double the pace of increase over the past decade. Deaths caused by synthetic opioids also skyrocketed, up 45%. However, five states saw decreases in deaths from suicide, overdose and alcohol. Those were Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah and Wyoming.

Loribeth Bowman Stein, of Milford, Connecticut, believes that social isolation is contributing to these co-called diseases of despair.

She said, “We don’t really see each other anymore. We don’t share our hopes and joys in the same way, and we aren’t as available to one another, physically and emotionally, as we need to be. The world got smaller, but lonelier.”

Kimberly McDonald, a licensed clinical social worker in Wisconsin lost her father to suicide, and says that she sees patients struggling with suicidal ideation and addiction every day. Often, they don’t get the support that they need to heal. 

"We are a society that criticizes and lacks compassion, integrity, and empathy. I work daily with individuals who each have their own demons,” she said. 

However, Benjamin Miller, a psychologist and chief strategy officer at the Well Being Trust, said that people need to avoid the temptation to explain away these alarming statistics. 

He said, "It's almost a joke how simple we're trying to make these issues. We’re not changing direction, and it's getting worse."

The Well Being Trust calls for policy changes, such as restricting access to firearms and medications that can be deadly for someone looking to end their life. In addition, the trust calls for more funding for programs that support resiliency in kids, address childhood trauma, and provide treatment for addiction.

All of these efforts, Miller said, can help save lives. Progress has been made in these areas, but there is need for more work, Miller said. 

"It is important to see hope in the slowing of rates—but it's not nearly enough. We should not be satisfied at all. Too many of us are dying from preventable causes."

Overall, the suicide rate has increased 33% since 1999. Rural states including West Virginia, New Mexico, Ohio, Alaska and New Hampshire have the highest suicide rates. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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