Healthbeat: ‘Pain in the Nation,’ tracking deaths related to substance abuse, suicide


WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — The pandemic is blamed for worsening an already troubling trend in America: increased mental stress and substance misuse. A new report tracks what are considered deaths of despair dating back to 2017.

The report called Pain in the Nation, examines the rise of drug overdose, alcohol-related, and suicide deaths. But it does more than highlight disturbing findings; it also offers solutions to prevent a tragedy.

When you look around your community, the signs of mental suffering may not seem so obvious. But the non-profit organizations, Trust for America’s Health and Well Being Trust, believes we need to take a closer look which they did in their report called Pain in the Nation.

“I think if you look at the data and the trends that we are beginning to study, you find that you see some very disturbing data points,” said Benjamin Miller, PsyD, chief strategy officer at Well Being Trust.

The report cites in 2020, a 27 percent increase from the previous year in drug overdose deaths something which Dr. Miller calls “problematic”.

“And while we still do not have data around suicide or alcohol from 2020, I think we can anticipate based on 2019 data that the pandemic did not help us at all,” Dr. Miller said.

Annual deaths blamed on alcohol, drugs or suicide topped 156,000 in 2019. While deaths by suicide were slightly lower, those attributed to alcohol and drugs increased. Mental health issues and substance use are fueling a grim trajectory.

“We continue to spiral in the wrong direction. We have to do something about that,” said Dr. Miller.

The Pain in the Nation report’s call to urgent action includes what Dr. Miller says is bringing care to where people are.

“We need to integrate mental health into all the places that people show up so that we don’t have to work so hard to get access to care. We know that half the folks that have a diagnosable mental illness don’t get care. We know about one in nine folks that have an identified substance use disorder don’t get care,” Dr. Miller said.

Dr. Miller says mental care outreach should start before adulthood to help reverse the trend of premature deaths.

“So we need to go into schools and we need to think about ways to put curriculum in there that can help children understand how to manage or cope with these stressors that are seemingly hitting them from every direction every day of the week,” Dr. Miller said.

Dr. Miller says besides mental health issues, social and economic factors also factor into the troubling trend. He says getting money into struggling people’s pockets is a major protective factor to prevent them from dying prematurely.

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