US Deaths From Alcohol, Drugs, and Suicide Reach Record High

March 5, 2019 Updated: March 6, 2019

The number of Americans who died from alcohol, drugs, and suicide in 2017 reached the highest level recorded—more than twice as many as in 1999—according to a new joint analysis by two public health organizations.

In 2017 alone, more than 150,000 Americans died from alcohol, drugs, or suicide, the highest number since the data collection began in 1999, according to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data by Trust for America’s Health and Well Being Trust (WBT).

Data from the dual analysis released on March 5, found that between 2016 and 2017, the national rate for deaths from alcohol, drugs, and suicide increased 6 percent to 46.6 deaths per 100,000, from 43.9. Although the increase was lower than the previous two years, it was still higher than the 4 percent average annual increase since 1999.

One of the key drugs contributing to the rise were deaths from synthetic opioids, which saw a 45 percent increase between 2016 and 2017—including a 10-fold spike over the past five years. According to the analysis, Americans are now dying at a faster rate from overdoses involving synthetic opioids than all drug deaths in 1999.

Fentanyl and synthetic opioids were linked to fewer than 1,000 annual deaths across America two decades ago. In 2017, however, more than 1,000 Americans died from synthetic-opioid overdoes every two weeks.

Deaths from suicide rose faster between 2016 and 2017 than in previous years, increasing 4 percent to 14.5 deaths per 100,000, from 13.9. The 2017 increase was the largest rise since 1999. Rates of suicide deaths were the highest among whites, males and people living in rural areas.

“It is important to see hope in the slowing of rates—but it’s not nearly enough. We should not be satisfied at all. Too many of us are dying from preventable causes, and each time we make progress—like with prescription opioids—new problems—like synthetic opioids—appear,” said Benjamin F. Miller, chief strategy officer at WBT. “Tackling such a complex problem is not about adding up small changes—but really about transformation at a systems level.”

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