U.S. deaths from drugs, alcohol and suicide could increase by 60 percent or more from the previous decade if current trends hold, which would lead to 1.6 million fatalities over the next decade, according to a new public health analysis published Tuesday.
In 2015, those causes were responsible for 350 deaths per day, or 14 per hour, according to the analysis by Berkeley Research Group published by the Trust for America's Health and Well Being Trust. The group said there were 127,500 deaths from drugs, alcohol, and suicide in 2015, but said that number could grow to 192,000 by 2025.
The study found, however, that these numbers may be conservative because of the rapid rise of deaths from heroin and even more potent drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil. If that's the case, total deaths from these causes over the next decade could total as much as 2 million.
“These numbers are staggering, tragic, and preventable,” John Auerbach, president and CEO of TFAH, said in a call with reporters. He said the illnesses were tied to issues of pain, disconnection, despair, and a lack of opportunity.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, state health officer and commissioner at the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health, noted that agencies previously were concerned about communicable diseases, like infections, but said now people are more worried about lifestyle diseases.
The analysis, called "Pain in the Nation," highlighted 60 policies that it recommends to reverse these trends, including extensive education about opioid misuse, expanding needle exchange programs, and sending people with addictions to treatment centers rather than jails. Some of these strategies were also part of a report that President Trump's opioid commission recommended.
On alcohol misuse, the report recommended increasing pricing and limiting the times and places in which alcohol can be sold. The alcohol industry has likened such recommendations as prohibition-era moves that they say could make the problem worse.
To prevent suicides, the report recommended anti-bullying programs in schools and better support for veterans.
Auerbach predicted that the trends would become worse without action. The report specifically called for a National Resilience Strategy, which would mean public health measures focused on treatment, prevention, and early identification of issues.
Benjamin Miller, chief policy officer of Well Being Trust, said that incremental approaches to the issue would be insufficient.
"The country needed to address pain, hopelessness, loneliness, and despair," he said.
The nation has been grappling with the country's opioid epidemic, which has in most cases begun with doctor prescriptions of painkillers like OxyContin and led to use of illegal street alternatives like heroin.
The study said alcohol-related deaths increased by 37 percent from 2000 to 2015, data that does not include injuries and violence in which alcohol was a factor. Suicide increased 28 percent over the same 15-year period, to more than 44,000 deaths in 2015.
The report was funded by grants from Well Being Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.