Deaths from Suicide, Alcohol, and Drugs at Highest Level in the U.S. Since Record-keeping Began in 1999

Kimberly McDonald of Richmond, Wisc. is shown with her father Gerry Middag on her wedding day in 2003. Middag died by suicide in 2010 while suffering from Parkinson’s disease and after he was also diagnosed with Lewy body dementia. (Photo: Family photo)

The number of deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide in 2017 hit the highest level since federal data collection started in 1999, according to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data by two public health nonprofits.

The national rate for deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide rose from 43.9 to 46.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017, a 6 percent increase, the Trust for America’s Health and the Well Being Trust reported Tuesday. That was a slower increase than in the previous two years, but it was greater than the 4 percent average annual increase since 1999.

Deaths from suicides rose from 13.9 to 14.5 deaths per 100,000, a 4 percent increase. That was double the average annual pace over the previous decade.

Suicide by suffocation increased 42 percent from 2008 to 2017. Suicide by firearm increased 22 percent in that time.

Psychologist Benjamin Miller, chief strategy officer of the Well Being Trust, says broader efforts are needed to address the underlying causes of alcohol and drug use and suicide.

“It’s almost a joke how simple we’re trying to make these issues,” he says. “We’re not changing direction, and it’s getting worse.”

The health and well-being trusts propose approaches including:

► More funding and support for programs that reduce risk factors and promote resilience in children, families and communities. Trauma and adverse childhood experiences such as incarcerated parents or exposure to domestic violence increase the risk of drug and alcohol abuse and suicide.

► Policies that limit people’s access to the means of suicide, such as the safe storage of medications and firearms, and responsible opioid prescribing practices.

► More resources for programs that reduce the risk of addiction and overdose, especially in areas and among people most affected, and equal access to such services.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Jayne O’Donnell