The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not start officially tracking deaths from alcohol, drugs, or suicide until 1999.
In those 20 years American society has done little to try to stem the flow of those statistics. In fact, when you look at our lax gun laws, our glorification of booze in all aspects of our culture, and the incredibly easy access to dangerously addictive and even deadly drugs prescribed by our own family doctors, it’s fair to argue that our society is fueling those numbers instead.
That is exactly what we are seeing in the recent analysis released by two non-profit groups who took a deep dive into nearly two decades of CDC stats and came back with some depressing results.
The Trust for America's Health and the Well Being Trust released a report today that shows an average increase of American deaths by alcohol, drugs, or suicide by 4% every single year since 1999. That is just the average, however. The most recent year of analysis, 2017, showed an increase of nearly 6% from the previous year rising from 43.9 to 46.6 deaths per 100,000 people.
Suicide rates in 2017 were double the average we saw in the ten years prior. Suicide by firearm specifically rose by 22% between 2008 and 2017.
But the most nefarious killer of them all over the past five years in particular have been synthetic opioids like OxyContin and more recently the far more powerful and deadly fentanyl.
The path toward addiction for these drugs almost always begins in a doctor’s office and all too often that doctor’s next vacation or new Benz was bought and paid for by the companies pushing these dangerous drugs.
This web of deceit has led to a tenfold increase in the number of deaths from these drugs over the past five years.
These numbers are compounded even further when you look at our veteran population. These men and women who served their country suffer more than double the average suicide rate as civilians – 30 deaths by suicide per 100,000 vets versus 14 per 100k for civilians. But when you narrow it down even further to vets aged 18-34, many of whom served and fought in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, the average unfortunately rises again up to 45 deaths by suicide per 100,000 veterans.
This data, now from the VA, lines up too perfectly with the data from the CDC to just ignore this epidemic. More than 6,000 vets have killed themselves every single year since 2008.
This is our national emergency.
So what is the solution?
Of course, there is no one magic solution to this multipronged problem but even as cannabis reform sweeps across the country, you don’t find any mention of the plant in these government reports.
We certainly don’t expect to see it contributing to deaths or even suicides. Mankind has been consuming cannabis for thousands of years and even the most hardcore opponents of the plant cannot point to one death from cannabis use.
The plant has, however, shown an ability to aid or outright cure a long and growing list of ailments, maladies, and diseases. The anti-inflammatory effects of marijuana have been known for centuries at least and are now, finally, being backed up by long overdue scientific research.
Cannabis in its various forms has been shown to be a highly effective and all-natural alternative to synthetic painkillers that can deliver the relief without the dangerous side effects and addictive properties.
Yet still our government refuses to recognize these many potential benefits and ignorantly keeps the cannabis plant locked down on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act claiming that it holds no medicinal value. For the record, most opiates including fentanyl are less restricted, residing on Schedule II.
Our federal government is complicit in every one of these deaths, civilian and military.
If we really want to make a difference in these terrible statistics – and remember, every ‘statistic’ is a real person with family, friends, colleagues who miss them – then we need to start at the top and demand full spectrum cannabis reform, comprehensive health care reform, and campaign finance reform to get this filthy money out of politics.
The fact that this is happening is a tragedy. The fact that most people aren’t paying attention is pretty fuckin’ tragic as well.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available toll free 24/7 across the United States at 1-800-273-8255
Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255 Text 838255
What Happens When You Call the Lifeline
First, you’ll hear a message telling you that you’ve reached the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
We’ll play you a little hold music while we connect you.
A skilled, trained crisis worker who works at the Lifeline network crisis center closest to you will answer the phone.
This person will listen to you, understand how your problem is affecting you, provide support, and share any resources that may be helpful.
Remember, your call is confidential and free.