“Deaths of Despair” On Dramatic Rise in US

Death rates from suicide, drug overdose, and alcohol abuse in the United States have skyrocketed in recent years, so much that these statistics are at an all –time high.  Examining all 50 states in the Union, a new report analyzed 47 factors that impact health outcomes to determine that not all states have been affected by equally by the rising trend. 

The 2017 data examined lifestyle variables like obesity, smoking, and even tooth loss, as well as environmental and situational factors like access to doctors and insurance coverage to assign each state a relative score.  While “deaths of despair” (as the study calls them) are up across the board, the research certainly suggests that some regions may be more susceptible to them than others. 

Commonwealth Fund senior scientist David Radley advises that the mid-Atlantic states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia) have experienced the “highest rates of drug overdose deaths in the country.”  Indeed, rates in these states are currently near double the national average for fatal drug overdose rates.

Specifically, West Virginia recorded the highest drug overdose rates, mostly fueled by the regional opioid epidemic.  On top of that, drug overdose rates, in this region, spiked 450 percent between 2005 and 2017.

What may be even more striking, though, is that prescription painkillers (and heroin) are not the only drugs driving these numbers. Fentanyl, of course, has been on the rise, as is the case with most of the other more potent [clinical] synthetic opioids; and largely because they are being mixed other illicit drugs like cocaine.  Fentanyl is very similar to morphine in its effect, except that it can be up to 100 times more potent, according to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

After West Virginia, the regions with the next highest drug overdose death rates include the Washington DC area, Kentucky, Delaware, and then New Hampshire. 

In terms of other “deaths of despair” data, the study showed there are regional disparities among suicide and alcohol-related deaths. These types of deaths seem to be most prolific in Montana, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, and Oregon. 

All that said and done, after analyzing 44 other factors, the states with the highest rankings were Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Washington. The states with the lowest rankings were Arkansas, Nevada, Texas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. 

Radley says that the major division between the highest and lowest ranking states is health care coverage.