National data says substance abuse is on the decline. These charts tell a different story.

In a country as large as the United States, national averages can quickly lose all meaning. Deaths from alcohol use disorders, for example, have dropped nationally by 8.1 percent since 1980. But in some counties, deaths have doubled in that same timeframe.

The question of why isn’t an easy one to answer. Health data on suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol abuse are severely lacking. Most studies trying to look at county-level data are from the ‘80s and ‘90s, so even if policy makers want to figure out where the problem areas are, they don’t have access to sufficiently detailed information. That’s exactly what a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association aims to fix.

“Progress overall doesn’t mean progress for everyone,” explains Laura Dwyer-Lindgren, an Assistant Professor of Global Health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and lead author of the study. “We hope that this research can be used to identify communities that are struggling and highlight where there are opportunities for improving health.”

Full story at Popular Science 

Commentary: The Most Under-Recognized Public Health Crisis

We lose nearly 130 people a day to drug overdoses. It is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, and the loss is felt most acutely by the families left behind. By doing a better job of helping families and their addicted children, we can most effectively reduce these deaths and the accompanying pain and suffering.

Nothing tears apart the fabric of a family quite like having a child who’s struggling with drugs or alcohol. In my experience, parents of these kids are usually overwhelmed by feelings of guilt, shame and fear. Will their child be alive the next morning? When they most need a comprehensive evaluation of their child’s condition and evidence-based treatment options as “standards of care” to consider, they instead find conventional wisdom from well-meaning friends and recommendations from under-trained healthcare professionals. In an age when most people use the Internet to access health information for their family, there is very little reliable science-based information available online, a far cry from the abundant resources for all other adolescent and young adult health issues and disorders.

Full story of under-recognized public health crisis at drugfree.org 

Deaths Involving Heroin More Than Tripled Between 2010 and 2014: DEA

The number of deaths in the United States involving heroin more than tripled between 2010 and 2014, according to a new report by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The number of people reporting current heroin use nearly tripled between 2007 and 2014, the agency said.

The DEA’s 2016 National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary found 425,000 people said they used heroin in the past month in 2014, and 10,574 people died from the drug. Deaths due to synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and similar drugs, increased 79 percent between 2013 and 2014.

Many people who use prescription opioid painkillers become addicted, and then switch to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain than illegal prescription drugs, the DEA noted.

Full story of deaths involving heroin rising at drugfree.org

Drug Overdoses May Play Role in Slight Drop in Life Expectancy for White Americans

A new government report finds there was a slight decline in the life expectancy of white Americans in 2014. Drug overdoses, liver disease and suicide were the main factors in the decrease, according to the lead researcher from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The report found life expectancy for whites decreased to 78.8 years in 2014, from 78.9 the previous year, according to The New York Times. Women’s life expectancy declined from 81.2 in 2013 to 81.1 in 2014. Men’s life expectancy stayed the same, at 76.5 years.

The death rate increase was most pronounced among whites in their mid-20s to their mid-50s, the report found. “The increase in death in this segment of the population was great enough to affect life expectancy at birth for the whole group,” said lead researcher Elizabeth Arias, a statistician at the National Center for Health. “That is very unusual.”

Full story of drug overdoses and life expectancy in White Americans at drugfree.org