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Deaths from drugs, alcohol, and suicide increase among millennials


The number of Americans who die each year from alcohol, drugs, or suicide increased to an all-time high in 2017, and the increase was especially pronounced among young adults, according a June 13 report from two public health policy and advocacy organizations. A separate report found that rates of these “deaths of despair” vary widely by state.

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The report by Trust for America’s Health and Well Being Trust examined Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data with a focus on adults aged 18-34 years. Between 2007 and 2017, alcohol-induced deaths increased by 69%, drug-related deaths by 108%, and suicide by 35% in this age group. These deaths increased in other age groups, too, but often to a lesser extent.

In 1999, there were 7 drug deaths per 100,000 people across age groups, which increased to 22.7 drug deaths per 100,000 people in 2017. Among adults aged 18-34, however, the rate was nearly 31 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 people. Opioid overdoses are largely responsible for the increase in drug-related deaths, and synthetic opioid death rates increased by 6,000% between 1999 and 2017, the report said.

Millennials, generally considered people born during 1981-1996, have faced “challenges unique to their generation ... including the opioid crisis, the skyrocketing costs of education and housing, and entering the job market during the great recession,” according to the report, which was funded with grants from Well Being Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Screening, treatment, and addressing risk and protective factors are among the measures that the groups recommend to reduce “deaths of despair.”

On June 12, the Commonwealth Fund released a report that examines how drug, alcohol, and suicide death rates across age groups may vary widely by state.

“In Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Ohio, mortality rates from drug overdoses were at least five times higher than rates for alcohol-related deaths and about three times higher than suicide rates,” according to the Commonwealth Fund analysis. “In other states, deaths from suicide and alcohol dominate. In 2017, Montana, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Oregon, and Wyoming saw higher rates of death from suicide and alcohol than from drugs.”

Substance use disorders and suicide might be related, and researchers have suggested that many overdoses may be suicide attempts.

“We assumed that overdoses were accidental ... only to find that many users were actively suicidal, others were playing a version of Russian roulette, and others had passive suicidal ideation,” said Mark S. Gold, MD, adjunct professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis, in an interview. Opioid use disorders often are treated as “simply opioid deficiency syndromes,” and physicians may miss when patients have physical, sexual, or emotional trauma, anxiety disorders, or major depression, he said.

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