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Deaths tied to alcohol and drugs up sharply in both U.S. and Ohio amid pandemic, new report details

by May 24, 2022Health, Local News

drug overdose

Alcohol- and drug-induced deaths shot up close to 30% nationally during the first year of the pandemic, with sizable increases also found in Ohio, according to a report released Tuesday by the organizations Trust for America’s Health and Well Being Trust.

Alcohol-induced deaths climbed 27% nationally and 29% in Ohio in 2020 over 2019, while drug-induced deaths were up 30% in the U.S. and 22% in Ohio.

A rise in synthetic opioid overdoses, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and its related anxiety, stress, grief, disruption to substance recovery programs, and financial hardship, contributed to the high rate of deaths across the country in 2020, according to the report.

Brandon Reavis, senior government relations manager at the nonprofit health research and advocacy organization Trust for America’s Health, said policy makers need to address these excess deaths by investing in programs that promote mental resiliency, and implementing harm reduction policies such as needle exchanges.

“The solutions are at hand and it’s just a matter of mustering the political will and the public pressure to make sure that we have the investments that we need,” Reavis said.

One positive trend in the report is that suicides were down, 3% nationally and 9% in Ohio.

This meant that overall, the combined alcohol, drug and suicide rate increased nationally by 20%, accounting for 186,763 deaths in 2020.

The combined rate climbed 16% in Ohio, where 5,376 deaths were attributed to drugs, 1,644 to suicide and 1,599 to alcohol.

The combined rate increased in every state but New Hampshire, where the rate was down 4%.

Among neighboring states, deaths for the three causes combined were up 37% in West Virginia, 36% in Kentucky, 28% in Indiana, 17% in Michigan and 14% in Pennsylvania.

(Read the full report at: tfah.org/report-details/pain-in-the-nation-2022)

Well Being Trust is a philanthropy dedicated to advancing the mental, social, and spiritual health of the nation. Trust for America’s Health receives funding from the Well Being Trust, Reavis said.

The report used data from the National Center for Health Statistics’ Multiple Cause of Death Files, accessed via the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Wide-ranging ONline Data for Epidemiologic Research (WONDER) Database.

Pandemic stress leads to negative behaviors

The report found Americans turned to drugs and alcohol as a way of coping with the stress and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Reavis said.

In addition to the loss of family members to the illness, there were also secondary effects such as the interruption of behavioral health services and recovery programs, and social isolation and depression, he said. Provisional data from CDC suggests that at least in terms of drug overdoses, the data for 2021, when the pandemic continued, will be as grim or worse.

“Even if we were to see a reduction in pandemic-related deaths and the grief associated with that, these are trends that have been increasing for a long time,” Reavis said. “The need for urgent action will be with us even in a post COVID-19 world.”

More on the trends

Nationally, the rate of drug-induced deaths rose for all ages in 2020 except for those over 75, according to the report. There were particularly large increases in communities of color, among youth 17 and younger, young adults 18-34 years of age, and in southern and western states.

Alcohol-induced death rates were particularly high among young adults, American Indians/Alaska Native and Asian communities, and in the Midwest.

These communities showed high rates of drug- and alcohol-related deaths because, Reavis said, underserved communities and communities of color, have not been able to access mental health treatment as much.

The prevalence of violence, housing insecurity, food insecurity, transportation and economic opportunity issues can all contribute to negative mental health outcomes, he said.

Helping children to be resilient is key to reversing these troubling trends, and the report includes recommendations for federal, state and local governments, Reavis said.

They include implementing in-school mental health programs, improving access to substance use disorder treatment and limiting where and when alcohol can be served and/or purchased.

“It’s easier and certainly more cost effective for the federal government to reach people early to try to break the link between adverse childhood experiences and negative behavioral health outcomes down the road,” Reavis said.

Programs that address the social determinants of health and promote resilience in children, including those focused on the prevention of adverse childhood experiences, are needed.

The report also supports increasing access to syringe service programs, naloxone, and fentanyl test strips.

Reavis acknowledges that such programs can be controversial.

“Our perspective is that given a very significant number of deaths, we need to at least have all options on the table for consideration,” he said.

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