More than 151,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, alcohol and suicide combined in 2018, slightly lower than the overall numbers in 2017, and leveling off for the first time in two decades, according to a new study.
But the report also found that deaths of despair increased in some minority communities during the same time period. And separately alcohol-related deaths were up 4% and suicides were up 2%, the analysis by the non-profit health policy groups Trust for America’s Health and the Well Being Trust, reported Thursday.
While the numbers were mostly level with 2017, they show a 51% increase over the past decade, the report found.
Coronavirus could cause a spike in deaths of despair
Even more problematic, though, the groups warned, these numbers could change when the coronavirus pandemic is factored in. A report released earlier this month by the Well Being Trust predicted as many as 75,000 Americans could die because of drug or alcohol misuse and suicide as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve seen unemployment rates go higher than what we were anticipating, which means that some of the estimates on those deaths could actually increase substantially,” Ben Miller, a psychologist and the chief strategy officer for the Well Being Trust, told CNN.
“But what makes it all different and why I think that people do need to be paying attention to this is that the social issues, the sheltering in place, the isolation, the loneliness – those are major, major risk factors for people not doing well psychologically, as well as potential premature mortality due to suicide or overdose,” Miller said.
Some opioid deaths down, other drug overdoses up
The big difference in overall deaths of despair in 2018 compared to the year before, the researchers said, was the lower numbers of overdose deaths involving prescription opioids, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, and to a lesser extent heroin, which were down by 2%.
“I think the bright spot in the report is that we can see that some strategies that our nation has pursued around opioids might actually be working for some communities,” Miller said.