A new study highlights specific areas of the United States experiencing an alarming surge in deaths due to alcohol, drugs, suicide, and interpersonal violence. Termed “deaths of despair,” these fatalities are reversing improvements in life expectancy that were centuries in the making – particularly among white males.
For this detailed study, researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle used county-level data to measure the extent and variation of the 2,848,768 U.S. deaths from these four causes from 1980 to 2014. They discovered some compelling differences.
Overall, death rates from drug use disorders increased by about 618 percent, but death rates from alcohol use, suicide, and interpersonal violence declined – by 8 percent, 6 percent, and 45 percent, respectively. Drug-related deaths increased in every county, but were 58 times higher in some parts of the country – counties on the Kentucky/West Virginia border, in particular – than in other areas. Mortality rates varied significantly among U.S. counties. Rates of other “deaths from despair” increased in some counties and decreased in others.