Introduction: Appalachia is one of the regions most significantly impacted by the opioid crisis. This study investigated mortality due to diseases of despair within the Appalachian Region, with an additional focus on deaths attributable to opioid overdose.
Methods: Diseases of despair include: alcohol, prescription drug and illegal drug overdose, suicide, and alcoholic liver disease/cirrhosis of the liver. Mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) Multiple Cause of Death database were analyzed for this study, focusing on individuals aged 15–64.
Results: Over the past two decades, the mortality rate due to diseases of despair has been increasing across the United States, but the gap has widened between the Appalachian Region and the rest of the nation. In 2017, the combined diseases of despair mortality rate was 45% higher in the Appalachian Region than the non-Appalachian United States. When looking at just overdose mortality, this disparity grows to 65% higher in the Appalachian Region. Within the Appalachian region disparities are most notable in the Central and North Central Appalachian subregions, among males, and among individuals age 45 to 54.
Discussion: These findings document the scale and scope of the problem in Appalachia and highlight the need for additional research and discussion in terms of effective interventions, policies, and strategies to address these diseases of despair. Over the past two decades, mortality from overdose, suicide, and alcoholic liver diseases/cirrhosis has increased across the United States, but the disparity between Appalachia and the non-Appalachian U.S. continues to grow.
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Meit M, Heffernan M, Tanenbaum E. Investigating the impact of the diseases of despair in Appalachia. J Appalach Health 2019;1(2):7-18. DOI: https://doi.org/10.13023/jah.0102.02