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Black and Native Americans Hit Hardest by 'Deaths of Despair'
  • Posted April 10, 2024

Black and Native Americans Hit Hardest by 'Deaths of Despair'

More middle-aged Black and Native Americans are now falling prey to “deaths of despair” than whites, a new study finds.

These deaths -- from suicide, drug overdose and alcoholic liver disease -- initially had been more common among whites.

But a new analysis has determined that deaths of despair have skyrocketed for Black and Native Americans over the past decade.

The deaths of despair rate among Black Americans tripled between 2013 and 2022, rising from 36 deaths per 100,000 people to nearly 104 deaths per 100,000, researchers found.

That's slightly higher than the 2022 rate among white Americans, which was nearly 103 deaths per 100,000.

The rate is worst among Native American/Alaska Native people, who suffered nearly 242 deaths of despair per 100,000 in 2022.

“The findings reinforce the notion that we need to invest in services that can address these issues and, ultimately, we need much more comprehensive access to low-barrier mental health care and substance use treatment in the U.S.,” said researcher Joseph Friedman, of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

“And we need to specifically make sure those treatments, services and programs are implemented in a way that is accessible for communities of color and will actively work to address inequality,” Friedman added in a university news release.

Deaths of despair attained the spotlight following a 2015 study that analyzed the reasons behind decreasing life expectancy in the United States and increasing mid-life deaths between 1999 and 2013.

That study found that white Americans had the highest deaths of despair rate, at 72 deaths per 100,000 people in 2013 -- twice that of Black Americans. Native Americans weren't included in that initial study.

The new data doesn't identify what's driving these deaths, researchers noted.

However, Friedman said these deaths of despair largely relate to mental health and substance use disorders.

Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by the drug overdose crisis, Friedman said. They also have less access to health care and social services, typically have worse economic insecurity, and are exposed to illicit drugs more often tainted with the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.

The new study was published April 10 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on deaths of despair.

SOURCE: UCLA, news release, April 10, 2024

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