SALT LAKE CITY — A new report predicts a sharp rise in deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide over the next decade, not just nationwide but also in Utah.
To combat the trend, the groups issuing the report have called for a new strategy that focuses on resilience to combat what are commonly called "diseases of despair." They also call for an intergenerational approach to drug abuse that would offer not just treatment for drug abusers, but also provide support for children, grandparents and other members of the family.
The report, released Tuesday by the Trust for America's Health and the Well Being Trust, projects that Utah's rate of death from alcohol, drugs and suicide could rise from 50 to 70 deaths per 100,000 people by 2025.
That would be a 40 percent increase, nudging Utah from 15th to 14th place in national rankings. But Utah fares better than the nation overall, which will see a 60 percent increase in deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide if trends continue, the report said.
In a news conference, John Auerbach, president and CEO of the Trust for America's Health, called the numbers "staggering, tragic and preventable."
“We’re facing a serious crisis in the U.S. that goes way beyond reducing the supply of opioids and alcohol,” Auerbach said.
“Drug and alcohol misuse and suicide are signals of serious underlying concerns. They reflect that too many Americans are facing pain, despair, disconnection and a lack of opportunity. If more action is not taken, these trends will become significantly worse.”
The groups call for a nationwide strategy that incorporates prevention, early identification of problems and effective treatments, with an overarching focus on building resilience.
Among their specific recommendations are lowering excessive alcohol use through public policies that limit times when alcohol can be sold, hold sellers and hosts liable for serving minors, and increase prices. A 10 percent increase in the price of alcoholic beverages has been shown to reduce consumption by more than 7 percent, the report said.
The 198-page report also calls for a multi-generational approach to the opioid epidemic, involving substance-abuse treatment for parents and “wrap-around” services for children and families to include grandparents and other relatives who help care for the children.
Some of the report’s suggestions have already been implemented in Utah, which has seen a decline in prescription-opioid deaths since 2014 because of efforts to change prescribing practices and educate the public about the danger of opioid addiction, said Anna Fondario, epidemiology manager with the Utah Department of Health.
“But we are seeing increases in illicit opioid overdose deaths so when you look at all of it together, it doesn’t really look like we’re seeing a decrease because the illicit opioids are bringing those numbers up,” Fondario said.
Utah is consistently among the nation’s top 10 states for suicide and drug overdoses, she said, and Fondario agrees that a strategy focusing on resilience could make a difference in what Princeton University professor Anne Case has called “deaths of despair.”
Utah's suicide death rate was 21 per 100,000 in 2015, the sixth highest in the nation, the report said. And while Utah ranks 35th in the nation for alcohol-induced deaths, nationwide there were 33,200 alcohol-induced deaths that year, a 35-year high.
“What the report indicates — resiliency and coping skills, and primary prevention — are things that will reduce a lot of different problems in our state, whether it’s suicide, alcohol, drug overdose, domestic violence or sexual violence,” Fondario said.
Benjamin F. Miller, chief policy officer of the Washington, D.C.-based Well Being Trust, said any effective approach to reducing the death rate for suicide, drugs and alcohol must address "the drivers of pain."
More than 1 million Americans died from suicide, drugs and alcohol between 2006 and 2015, and these deaths are believed to be one reason that life expectancy in America has declined for the first time in two decades. About 3 percent of Americans have a drug-use disorder, and 6 percent have an alcohol-abuse disorder, although millions more drink enough to put themselves at risk for injuring themselves or others.
Although the numbers testify to "three of the most serious public health crises of this century," the nation's response has been "severely inadequate," the report said. Solutions must address the root causes, which include mental disorders, chronic pain, adverse childhood experiences and "persistent and prolonged" stress.
The study was funded by the Well Being Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Berkeley Research Group conducted the analysis using statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.