FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A new report from Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and Well Being Trust says that the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic saw the highest ever combined rates of deaths from alcohol, drugs and suicide.

According to a press release, deaths spanned ages, racial and ethnic groups, and geography but disproportionally harmed young people and people of color. Deaths associated with alcohol, drugs, and suicide took the lives of 186,763 Americans in 2020, a 20 percent one-year increase in the combined death rate.

The report notes that while alcohol, drug, and suicide deaths have been increasing for decades, the 2020 jump was “unprecedented” and driven by a 30 percent increase in the rate of drug-induced deaths and a 27 percent increase in the rate of alcohol-induced deaths. Combined rates of alcohol, drug, and suicide deaths increased in all 50 states except New Hampshire, and for the first time two states—West Virginia and New Mexico—surpassed 100 deaths per 100,000 state residents from alcohol, drugs, and suicide combined in a single year.

  • The overall drug-induced death rate increased by 30 percent, largely driven by increases in deaths due to use of synthetic opioids and psychostimulants. The rate of drug-induced death rose for all but one population group—those over 75 years of age. There were particularly large increases in communities of color, among youth (17 years old and younger) and young adults (18-34 years of age) and in the South and West regions of the country.
  • Alcohol-induced death rates increased by 27 percent, and the increase spanned demographic groups and parts of the country, including in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Increases were particularly high among young adults, American Indians/Alaska Native and Asian communities, and for those living in the Midwest.
  • Overall suicide rates declined by 3 percent but that trend was not universal. The decline occurred among white people but suicide deaths for the year increased among American Indian, Black, and Latino people. Suicide rates for adults ages 35-74 declined, but rates for youth and young adults increased.

TFAH and Well Being Trust have been reporting alcohol-induced, drug-induced and suicide deaths as part of their “Pain in the Nation” initiative since 2017. In the initiative’s inaugural 2017 report, alcohol, drug, and suicide deaths accounted for 55,403 deaths per year, as compared to the 186,763 deaths associated with alcohol, drugs or suicide in this year’s report.

According to the report authors and other experts, the increase in alcohol and drug deaths in 2020 was exacerbated by “a continued rise in synthetic opioid and psychostimulant overdoses and the anxiety, stress, grief, disruption to substance misuse recovery programs, and financial hardship many individuals and families experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The entire report, including recommendations for addressing the situation, is available here.