Appalachian deaths related to “diseases of despair” higher than national rate


MARYLAND (WDVM) — A recent study found that the rate of deaths in Appalachia caused by overdoses, liver disease, or suicide are higher than the national rate.

Counties in Maryland and West Virginia had the highest “diseases of despair” mortality rate out of all studied states, and overdose rates were the highest in Maryland Appalachian counties.

Michael Meit, one of the researchers involved in this study and the Director of Research and Programs at East Tennessee State University, said that these diseases are often linked to “despair, isolation, and challenges.”

This study looked at data from 2018, but researchers have seen some spikes in these deaths in 2020.

“What we are hearing, though, is that the early date of the people are starting to see for 2020, is showing some spikes particularly in overdose mortality, but I think will see it across each of these causes,” Meit said. “And again, it’s that same concept of despair, certainly due to the pandemic with more isolation, more joblessness, a lot of the factors that are associated with these particular causes of death.”

This research also showed that while some mortality rates related to these diseases had gone down, the disparities between Appalachia and the rest of the nation had grown. Meit said that notably, rates were about 46% higher for working-age individuals between the ages of 25 and 54.

“There’s certainly a lot being done. It varies state by state, there are suicide hotlines, the state health departments have done a lot of work really across all of these causes of death, but it varies by state very much,” said Meit.

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