A new report released at the end of the last month brought a devastating prediction for the next decade. According to Pain in the Nation: The Drug, Alcohol and Suicide Epidemics and the Need for a National Resilience Strategy, more than 1.6 million Americans could die due to suicide, drugs, and alcohol by 2025.
This report from Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and Well Being Trust (WBT) found that rates of death caused by these three issues have risen significantly since 1999. That is, the report found that about 23 deaths out of every 100,000 were caused by suicide, alcohol, or drugs in 1999, but by 2015, that number had risen to almost 40 deaths out of every 100,000. That amounts to a 72 percent increase in 15 years. By 2025, the expectation is that the number of lives lost per 100,000 due to suicide, alcohol, or drugs will rise to 56.
John Auerbach is the president and CEO of the Trust for America’s Health. He says: “We see a connection among the three epidemics. They are all behavioral health-related — that is, they have a substance abuse or mental health diagnosis associated with them.”
New Jersey in Crisis
The outlook for New Jersey specifically is pretty grim as well. According to the report, the rate of deaths caused by alcohol, drugs, or suicide is expected to increase by 46 percent over the next decade, the reason for about 44 out of 100,000 deaths by 2025. Currently, the rate of deaths caused by these three factors is 30.5 for every 100,000 deaths.
Benjamin F. Miller, PsyD, is the chief policy officer at Well Being Trust. He says: “We’re facing a generational crisis. And it calls for bigger and bolder action. Simply creating new programs to address one piece of the problem is insufficient – we need more robust and systematic change. The good news is: we know a lot about what works and can make a difference. This report highlights the need for investments that take a whole-person approach to wellbeing – encompassing the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of wellbeing – to truly address the drivers of pain, ultimately saving lives.”
No Foregone Conclusions
If these numbers aren’t harsh enough, the expectation is that they are actually a little bit below the mark. The fact is that fentanyl is being found in an increasing number of addictive substances sold on the street, and this synthetic drug is so powerful that it is causing overdoses in the first responders who accidentally come in contact with the substance. It is unknown how the drug will impact the spiking rates of overdose in New Jersey and across the country but if it continues to proliferate, the epidemic of addiction and numbers of lives lost will get worse long before they get better.
On the other hand, there are no foregone conclusions. Trends are one thing, and often, reality is another. It is important to remember that there are things we can do on a federal, state, and local level to have a positive impact on the loss of life happening due to these preventable issues. Though it can feel like these numbers are so much larger than ourselves, the truth is that every individual push forward is needed.
You can add your efforts to the fight. Here are just a few things you can do:
- Know what the issues are. Our state and federal budgets will determine how and where taxpayer funds are directed, so it is important to pay attention to changes so you know what is going on.
- Speak your mind. With the knowledge you have gained, let your state representatives know how you feel about the issues. Make it clear where tax dollars should be spent to fight the addiction epidemic and loss of life due to suicide.
- Share your story. If your family has been impacted by addiction, when you share your story, it can help others who are in the same position to hear that they are not alone. It can also help you to process what you have been through and take ownership of where you are headed.
- Vote. Play a role in putting people in power who are best equipped to make choices that will support families in crisis due to untreated mental health disorders and substance use disorders.
How will you help turn the tide against drugs, alcohol, and suicide that are threatening the lives of Americans in New Jersey and across the country?