Bucking a century of progress, the US death rate rose in 2015 for the first time in a decade—largely due to increasing rates of overdose as well as suicide and Alzheimer’s, The New York Times reports.
”It’s an uptick in mortality and that doesn’t usually happen, so it’s significant,” says Robert Anderson, chief of mortality statistics at the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ”But the question is, what does it mean? We really need more data to know. If we start looking at 2016 and we see another rise, we’ll be a lot more concerned.”
Demography-wise, the most likely driver of rising national mortality rates is the spike in premature deaths among working-class whites, documented in a study Anne Case and Angus Deaton.
The interactive map below, posted by KTOO, shows the top five causes of death in each state. There are instructive differences between regions, with different states presenting higher rates of death from obesity, drug overdose and alcohol-related disease.
Drinking is more likely to be the cause of death if you live in the Southwest. Appalachia and New England cultures share a common likely cause of death: drug overdose (mostly involving the mixing of different drugs). And in the Upper Midwest and Alaska, suicide by gun is disproportionately high.
Some causes are more mysterious; falling down is a disproportionately high cause of death in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Researchers suggest it may be due to low levels of Vitamin D, due to cloudy weather (sunlight is one important source of Vitamin D). Vitamin D promotes bone health, so low levels might make falls more likely to be fatal.
In states where drug-related deaths are high, officials are devoting more resources to these issues. Unfortunately, in many cases they’re throwing money away. For example, Kentucky and New Hampshire have high rates of death by accidental poisoning, which includes drug overdose. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (a Democrat), has decided to “solve” the problem by signing a bill creating harsher penalties for drug dealers, calling overdose deaths from heroin and painkillers “the most pressing public health and public safety issue facing our state.”
But if it’s a public health issue, why throw more people in jail?