Health and Science

America's dark future: Deaths from booze, drugs, suicide could spike 60 percent to 1.6 million over next decade

Key Points
  • Deaths from drug overdoses, alcohol and suicide could increase by 60 percent over the coming decade if recent trends hold, a new report warns.
  • More than 127,000 Americans are dying from such causes annually.
  • The number of fatal drug overdoses tripled from 2000 to 2015.
Over 100 drug reform advocates, former addicts, and family members who have lost loved ones to drugs participate in a New Orleans-style funeral march to demand action on Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, 2017 in New York City.
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The United States — already seeing an alarming wave of deaths from drugs, alcohol and suicides — could be on the verge of a sharp increase in that carnage, a new analysis warns.

The report projects that fatalities related to drugs, booze and suicide, if recent trends hold, could spike to 1.6 million over the next decade. That would represent a 60 percent increase from the number seen in the previous 10 years.

And it might be even worse, according to the "Pain in the Nation" report from the Trust for America's Health and the Well Being Trust.

The analysis found that if the U.S. continues along the trend indicated by most recent federal data about drug overdoses, the rate of deaths from substance abuse and suicides could double over a 10-year span to 2 million by 2025.

The report, with projections based on data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted the rapid increase recently in the use of heroin, as well as other opioids fentanyl and carfentanil.

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Currently, more than 127,000 Americans are dying annually from drugs, alcohol and suicide — which works out to 350 such deaths per day, 14 per hour and one every four minutes.

By 2025, the report says in its most conservative projection, there could be 192,000 such deaths each year.

"These numbers are staggering, tragic and they're preventable," said John Auerbach, president and CEO of Trust for America's Health, during a call with reporters Tuesday to discuss the analysis.

"In the past decade, more than 1 million Americans have died from drug overdose, alcohol or suicide. One million," Auerbach said.

"It's not surprising that life expectancy in the country decreased in 2015 for the first time in two decades."

A heroin user injects himself on March 23, 2016 in New London, Conn. Communities throughout New England and nationwide are struggling with the unprecidented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic.
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The report said, "These trends are a wake-up call that there is a serious well-being crisis in this country."

"In stark terms, they are signals of serious underlying concerns facing too many Americans — about pain, despair, disconnection and lack of opportunity — and the urgent need to address them."

The 200-page report calls for a national strategy focused on prevention, early identification of issues fueling substance abuse and suicide, and treatment.

Used needles are left behind in what was a heroin shooting gallery in the Kensington section of Philadelphia which has become a hub for heroin use on July 31, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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While deaths from all three sources highlighted in the report are markedly higher since 2000, the explosion in deaths from drug overdoses, particularly ones linked to prescription painkillers and illicit opioids, is fueling much of the rise seen in overall fatalities.

Between 2000 and 2015, the number of fatal drug overdoses tripled, to 52,400 such deaths in 2015 alone.

Provisional data indicates that fatal ODs might have topped 64,000 last year. Fentanyl deaths alone may have doubled from 2015 to 2016, to 21,000 fatalities, according to provisional data.

The number of deaths from alcohol abuse — which do not include motor vehicle accidents, other mishaps or violence — jumped 37 percent from 2000 to 2015, to 33,000 fatalities in 2015 alone.

Suicides rose by 28 percent over the same 15 years, to 44,000 such deaths in 2015 alone.

The report includes state-by-state data on the current number of deaths from substance abuse and suicide, and projections for individual states by 2025. The two leading states for deaths currently and projected are New Mexico and West Virginia.

New Mexico, which had 77.4 such deaths per 100,000 people in 2015, is expected to have 105.7 such deaths per 100,000 in 2025.

West Virginia, which had 67.4 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2015, is projected to have 99.6 deaths per 100,000 by 2025.

The report was released a day after the White House Council of Economic Advisers said that the opioid epidemic cost the economy more than $500 billion in 2015 — several times higher than prior estimates.

President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency last month.

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