As 'Deaths of Despair' Rise, More Treatment Options Needed

Aug 13, 2018

States, including West Virginia, have seen a spike in death rates from drugs, alcohol and suicide, commonly known as “deaths of despair.”

Research from the private health care research organization the Commonwealth Fund found that nationwide, while drug deaths were the smallest contributor to deaths of despair in 2005, they were by far the largest in 2016. In the same time period, deaths from suicide and alcohol rose 25 percent.

All states have been affected by deaths of despair, but West Virginia stands out. It has the highest combined death rate in 2016 as well as the largest increase in deaths of despair since 2005.

The analysis found that while states are trying to counter the surge in drug overdose deaths, the most pressing need is better access to addiction services. In 2016 for instance, only about 11 percent of adolescents and adults who needed substance use treatment received it that year at a facility with staff trained to provide ongoing addiction treatment.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Marshall Health, Charleston Area Medical Center and WVU Medicine.