Deaths from suicide, alcohol, and drug overdose have increasingly taken center stage in public discourse about mental health in the United States. CNN recently reported that the US suicide rate is at its highest since World War II. Alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of death in the US, and deaths from drug overdose are at the core of the opioid crisis.
While national statistics indicate a steady increase in suicide, alcohol-related deaths, and deaths from drug overdose, death from these conditions impact states very differently.
Across the country, suicide is most prevalent in the West—particularly in the Rocky Mountain region. States in the Pacific West, Southwest, and Midwest have the highest rates of alcohol-related deaths, while death from drug overdose is most prevalent in Eastern states.
The Commonwealth Fund appraised these regional realities in a recent report. As illustrated by the maps above, states in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and several Southeastern states experienced 30-57.8 deaths per 100,000 residents from drug overdose. Of these states, West Virginia had the highest with 57.8 deaths per 100,000 residents followed by Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Alcohol-related deaths dominated in 12 states across the Pacific West, Southwest, and Midwest. Within this region, rates ranged from 13.4 deaths per 100,000 residents in Washington to 30.6 deaths per 100,000 residents in New Mexico. In terms of suicide, Rocky mountain states were hardest hit with Montana and Wyoming having the highest suicide rates at 28.9 and 26.9 deaths per 100,000 residents respectively.
While focusing on national statistics provides useful points of analysis, doing so can mask important differences at the state level. At a time when public health funding is on the decline, paying attention to the varied experiences of states allows for more tailored and effective interventions for our state of the public’s health.
Databyte via 2019 Scorecard on State Health System Performance, Commonwealth Fund.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.