Deaths From Alcohol, Drugs, and Suicide Hit All-Time High in 2017

Deaths From Alcohol, Drugs, and Suicide Hit All-Time High in 2017

The number of suicides and alcohol- and drug-induced fatalities in the United States reached a record high of 151,845 in 2017, a report from the Trust for America's Health and the Well Being Trust finds.

Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the report, Pain in the Nation Update: While Deaths From Alcohol, Drugs, and Suicide Slowed Slightly in 2017, Rates Are Still at Historic Highs (20 pages, PDF), found that the total included 35,823 alcohol deaths, 73,990 drug deaths, and 47,173 suicide deaths. The combined death rate due to alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and suicide rose 6 percent in 2017, from 43.9 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016 to 46.6 deaths per 100,000 people, and while the rate of increase slowed from the 11 percent and 7 percent increases seen in 2016 and 2015, it remained well above the 4 percent average since 1999. Only five states — Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wyoming — had lower rates of deaths from alcohol, drugs, and suicide in 2017 than in 2016, while West Virginia had the highest rate (91 per 100,000), followed by New Mexico (77 per 100,000), Ohio (69.4 per 100,000), Alaska (67.6 per 100,000), and New Hampshire (66.0 per 100,000).

According to the report, deaths caused by synthetic opioids were up 45 percent between 2016 and 2017 and have increased tenfold since 2012. Americans are now dying at a higher rate from overdoses involving synthetic opioids than they did from all drugs in 1999 (8.7 synthetic-opioid deaths per 100,000 in 2017, compared with 6.9 drug deaths per 100,000 in 1999). In 2017, synthetic-opioid deaths were highest among males, African Americans, white Americans, adults between the ages of 18 and 54, and those living in urban areas, while the populations affected by other types of opioids earlier in the decade were more likely to be white, older, and rural.

The analysis also found that suicide deaths rose 14 percent between 2016 and 2017, from 13.9 per 100,000 to 14.5 per 100,000, the largest increase since data on such deaths began to be collected in 1999. By comparison, between 2008 and 2017 suicide rates increased an average of 2 percent per year. While white Americans, men, and people living in rural areas had the highest rates of suicide, as in previous years, increases in 2017 were proportionally greater among children and adolescents (16 percent), African Americans (9 percent), and Latinx (5 percent). 

"We need a comprehensive approach with attention to the upstream root causes — like childhood trauma, poverty, and discrimination — and the downstream life-saving efforts — like overdose reversal and access to treatment — and everything in between," said Trust for America's Health president and CEO John Auerbach. "A focus on only one or two approaches won't work with complex and widespread epidemics like these. As a nation, we need to better understand and to systematically address the factors that drive these devastating deaths of despair."