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Only one state saw more overdose deaths than Ohio last year

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Posted at 6:59 PM, Nov 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-29 18:59:21-05

Five thousand one hundred and eleven people died of drug overdoses in Ohio during 2017, according to data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That figure makes the state second in the nation for both total number of recorded overdose deaths -- just Pennsylvania reported more -- and proportion of the state population lost. Only West Virginia, where the 974 killed by overdoses comprised a far larger slice of the state's citizens, outstripped Ohio's rate of 46.3 overdose deaths per 100,000 people.

2017 was the deadliest year for overdoses nationwide in both respects: 70,237 people -- about 21 per every 100,000 United States residents -- died after taking drugs, and 47,600 died after taking opioids specifically.

Both numbers represent a staggering leap from the start of the millennium, when the CDC recorded 8,407 fatal opioid overdoses and 17,415 overdose deaths total across the entire United States.

The cumulative effect of all those overdoses and an equally alarming uptick in suicide: A less healthy nation in which life expectancy declined slightly for the second time in three years.

"Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation's overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable," CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield wrote in a statement. "CDC is committed to putting science into action to protect U.S. health, but we must all work together to reverse this trend and help ensure that all Americans live longer and healthier lives."

From 2000 to 2017, most overdose deaths recorded by the CDC have remained concentrated in the age group between 25 and 54.

Men remain about twice as likely as women to die of an overdose and several times as likely to die of suicide.

Kathryn McHugh, a Harvard Medical School researcher who studies psychiatry and substance use, told NPR she saw a link between the concurrent rise of suicides and overdose deaths. A person who dies of one could easily be at high risk of the other.

"There's a tremendous amount of overlap between the two that isn't talked about nearly enough," she said.

Another expert, Dr. William Dietz of Georgetown University, said both could be an outgrowth of a shifting social climate in which Americans feel less connected to one another and their communities.

"There are some data to suggest that that's led to a sense of hopelessness, which in turn could lead to an increase in rates of suicide and certainly addictive behaviors," he said.