US Life Expectancy Declines For The 3rd Year In A Row Due To Addiction And Suicide
According to the Centers for Disease Control, life expectancy in the United States dropped again for the third year in a row. This represents the longest period of decline in this country since 1915. To put this in perspective, life expectancy decline during 1915 to 1918 was largely attributed to World War 1 and disease outbreaks that were nearly impossible to contain. Fast forward to 2018. Once again we are facing war and disease, except this time, the war is against overdose death and the disease is addiction.
Addiction is a brain disease that is affecting millions. In 2017, we lost over 70,000 Americans to drug induced overdose. If that wasn’t bad enough, the suicide rates in the United States have also skyrocketed. The National Institute of Mental Health and the Centers for Disease Control reported that there were 45,000 completed suicides in 2017. It was the second leading cause of death in the 10-34 year old age group. To put this in perspective, there were twice as many suicides in 2017 than homicides. What is even more heartbreaking is that there were 436 suicides in the 10-14 year old age bracket.
The Connection Between Substance Abuse And Suicide
The link between substance use disorders and suicide has been well established. In fact, suicide is among the leading causes of death in individuals suffering from a substance use disorder. Co-occurring mental illnesses like depression increase these risks even further, and should be a central theme in treatment for substance use disorders.
Individuals with alcohol use disorders specifically, are at a ten times greater risk for suicide compared to the general population (6). Additionally, alcohol is present in 30-40% of completed suicides (5). There is also a strong relationship between gun ownership and increased suicide rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control, people living in rural areas are twice as likely to die by suicide using a gun than those in urban areas, largely due to the fact that people in rural areas are are twice as likely to keep guns in the home.
Understanding Means Safety
Means safety is one method that has been shown to be an effective deterrent to suicide completions and attempts. Means safety refers to making a specific method for suicide less deadly or less available for suicide.
According to Dr. Michael Anestis, Associate Professor and author of the acclaimed book “Guns and Suicide: An American Epidemic, states that “means safety has repeatedly been shown to lead to substantial and sustainable reductions in suicide rates.
Firearms account for less than 5% of all American suicide attempts, but are involved in over half of all suicide deaths (over 23,000 firearm suicide deaths per year).” Dr. Anestis is clear to state that gun ownership does not cause people to become suicidal, rather it makes suicidal people far more likely to die by suicide when using readily available methods, such as hand guns.
“Approximately 95% of firearm suicide attempts result in death (intentional overdose results in death only 2-3% of the time), which means a second chance is almost never available.” Dr. Anestis also reported that 75% of individuals who attempt suicide never go on to make another attempt.
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Fentanyl To Blame For Increase Of Opioid-Related Deaths
According to a recent article in the New York Times, one of the biggest reasons for increased drug overdose death is the surging availability of the synthetic opioid, Fentanyl. Fentanyl is an incredibly potent and powerful lab created opioid medication, designed to treat severe lasting pain.
It is typically used for cancer patients, as a pain reliever during surgery, as anesthesia for patients undergoing heart surgery, and for chronic pain conditions in which the patient may have developed high levels of tolerance to other more commonly prescribed opiates. It is 100 times more potent than morphine and is currently the most powerful pain relieving product that is used in today’s modern medicine.
While it can be an effective and safe treatment option when used correctly, it is often being used illegally and as a cutting agent into other street drugs such as heroin. Fentanyl is largely recognized as the main culprit in the surge of overdose deaths over the last few years. Some of the more common street names for this drug include “drop dead,” “serial killer,” and “murder 8.” The difference between medically indicated doses, and doses that are enough to kill someone, are very small.
Co-Occurring Disorders: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders
Individuals suffering from substance use disorders often have co-occurring mental health disorders as well. 60-70% of patients presenting to treatment facilities have suffered from some sort of severe trauma. These traumatic events can include childhood and adult physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, seeing someone badly injured or killed, serious life threatening injuries, and many other forms.
Untreated trauma or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder often leads to severe anxiety, feeling on edge, racing thoughts, sleep disorders and nightmares, and overwhelming feelings of sadness and despair. They can often become highly isolated, with difficulty communicating with or trusting others. They often have difficulty regulating their emotions, and find it difficult to cope with daily life.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Treatment for substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions saves lives. In order to reduce the nationwide overdose death rate and related completed suicides, increased access to excellent care must be established. Individuals suffering from substance use disorders often try many times to stop on their own, with little chance of success. In fact stopping “cold turkey” can often lead to significant medical consequences such as seizure, heart attacks, and strokes.
Detoxification from drugs and alcohol often needs careful monitoring and should be done under medical supervision. Substance use disorders and active suicidal thoughts can be treated, and do not have to be end in demise. Treatment for substance use disorders works. Suicidality is not a chronic illness, and can be treated effectively.
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2008). - Substance Abuse and Suicide Prevention: Evidence and Implications—A White Paper. DHHS Pub. No. SMA-08-4352. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2009). - Addressing Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors in Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 50. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 09-4381. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The New York Times - ‘The Numbers Are So Staggering.’ Overdose Deaths Set a Record Last Year.