The death rate in Pennsylvania from drugs, alcohol and suicide could increase 46 percent over the next decade. That’s according to a new report released by Well Being Trust, a national foundation that aims to improve mental health.
“We’re turning to more lethal means to address our pain,” said Well Being Trust chief policy officer Benjamin Miller. He said nationwide those deaths could jump by 60 percent over the next 10 years if current trends continue.
“As dire as these trends are, and as mind-blowing as they might be on paper, there are things that we can do about them,” Miller said.
In 2015, Pennsylvania had the sixth worst drug overdose rate and the 29th worst suicide rate. However, alcohol-induced deaths were sixth lowest nationwide.
According to the study, the projections might be conservative due to the rapid rise in heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil use.
“If you look at a lot of public policy that is currently focused on decreasing the amount of opioids that are prescribed, people are addicted to these medications, and they just can’t stop them, so they turn to more lethal medications, medications that have higher potency that lead to overdose and death,” Miller said.
He added a comprehensive approach has three main components: early detection of substance use disorder and mental health issues, increased services and prevention.
“How do we invest in strategies that we know are going to prevent some of these issues from ultimately coming true?” Miller said. “We don’t spend a lot of money on prevention because it’s not as appealing or as glamorous as the latest, greatest intervention.”
Miller noted that Pennsylvania is using Medicaid to help address these issues, and Pittsburgh area health services and universities are trying innovative approaches around mental health, drugs and alcohol.
“How do we bring that up to the standard of care across the state so it’s not just happening in these wonderful kinds of bastions of excellence in our universities and medical centers, but it can happen in rural areas and smaller parts of the state,” he said.
Miller said the nation is facing a generational crisis, but the deaths are preventable.
“If we have the courage, if we have the leadership, and if we choose to invest our time and our resources in addressing them," he said.