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US is facing a suicide crisis, latest figures show

More than 150,000 Americans died from alcohol and drug-induced fatalities and suicide in 2017. According to a report in The New York Times, nearly a third – 47,173 – were suicides.

“There are two crises unfolding in America right now,” said Dr Benjamin Miller, the chief policy officer for Well Being Trust and the founding director of the Eugene S Farley Jr Health Policy Centre. “One is in health care, and one is in society.”

The report says Miller attributed the increasing disparities in health care and inequalities in income as crucial factors in the feelings of despair, loneliness and a lack of belonging that contributed to suicides among many Americans.

Twenty years ago, less than 1,000 deaths a year were attributed to fentanyl and synthetic opioids. In 2017, more than 1,000 Americans died from synthetic opioid overdoses every two weeks, topping 28,000 for the year. The report says most of the increase was concentrated in the preceding five years, when such deaths rose tenfold and the opioid epidemic became the leading cause of death for Americans under 55.

West Virginia and New Mexico had the highest number of deaths, the analysis showed, with Mississippi and Texas the lowest. By region, the Northeast had the highest opioid death rates followed by the Midwest. The South’s rate was nearly half that of the Northeast.

“The numbers are driven in no small way by pharmaceutical companies creating addicting drugs and clinicians inappropriately oversubscribing opioids,” said John Auerbach, president and CEO of Trust for America’s Health. Though doctors and drug companies have been taking steps to control opioid addictions, Auerbach said in the report, patients who are addicted to prescription opioids often shift to synthetic ones, like fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl has also snaked its way into other drugs like cocaine, Xanax and MDMA, widening the epidemic.

Guns, which remain plentiful and accessible, were used in nearly half of the nation’s 47,173 suicides in 2017, the report says the analysis showed. Though most common with Caucasians, suicide by gun increased proportionally more among racial and ethnic minority groups, the study showed, especially among African-Americans and Latinos.
The rate among children and adolescents increased 16%.

Suicides can be the result of trauma that goes unrecognised or unaddressed – the loss of a job, home or death of a loved one, Auerbach said. “Without the social cohesiveness and social support built within family,” he said, “people are experiencing trauma without what gave them resilience historically.”

Suicide by suffocation rose 42% in the last decade. There were 13,075 such deaths in 2017. And, the report says, Miller and Auerbach attributed this increase to copycat suicides. “People get the idea from high-profile celebrities who die by hanging,” Miller said. In addition, the materials used in a hanging suicide are much more available than firearms.

Five states reported a dip in these types of deaths. Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah and Wyoming saw decreases. In some instances, the numbers in these states were high to begin with, according to Auerbach, a former Massachusetts health commissioner. He said in the report that in response to the crisis, Massachusetts had begun to limit prescriptions of opioids; increase patient beds; focus on quality of care for patients who had suffered trauma; create suicide prevention programmes for veterans; and reduce the stigma of suicide through public information campaigns. “The old way was, ‘Don’t talk about it,’” he said. “The new way is, ‘Let’s talk about it.’”

Miller said: “It’s hard not to be discouraged. But I’m on the road a lot and what brings me hope is the innovation that’s coming up from local communities. We see communities rising to the challenge, and that’s what gives me hope.”

[link url="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/07/us/deaths-drugs-suicide-record.html?emc=edit_th_190308&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=425053800308"]The New York Times report[/link]

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