'Deaths of despair' from drugs, alcohol and suicide hit young adults hardest


By Jayne O'Donnell 

Young adults were more likely than any other age group to die from drugs, alcohol and suicide over the past decade, underscoring the despair Millennials face and the pressure on the health care system to respond to a crisis that shows little sign of abating.

Drug-related deaths among people 18 to 34 soared 108% between 2007 and 2017, while alcohol deaths were up 69% and suicides increased 35%, according to an analysis out Thursday of the latest federal data by the non-profit Trust for America's Health and Well Being Trust.

The analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data found the increases for these three "deaths of despair" combined were higher than for Baby Boomers and senior citizens.

The Millennial generation is typically defined as people born between 1981 and 1996 - so are 23 to 38 years old today - although some definitions include young people born through 2000. They make up about a third of the workforce and the military.

"There is a critical need for targeted programs that address Millennials’ health, well-being and economic opportunity," says John Auerbach, CEO of the Trust for America's Health and Massachusetts' former health secretary.

He cites "burdensome levels of education debt," the cost of housing and the challenge of building careers during the "great recession" and the opioid crisis. Many Millenials are also parents of young children and their alcohol or drug misuse or poor mental health often has serious impacts on multiple generations of their family says Auerbach.

When Brittany Rose Hallett of Milton, Wisconsin drank herself to death at 26, her $50,000 student loan debt was "weighing heavy on her mind because it was accruing interest and she couldn’t hold a job to pay it," says her mother, Jenny Hallett. She also couldn't afford health insurance after she aged off her father's health insurance.

"She couldn’t see a way out, so she drank more to 'not feel' as she called it," says Jenny Hallett.

Dennis Hobb, executive director of the Washington, D.C. mental health services non-profit agency, McClendon Center, says the disconnect between mental health and addiction services hurts patients who often have dual diagnoses.

Read the full story on USA Today.


Brittany Rose Hallett, 26, shown in Fort Myers, Fla. during her last vacation before she drank herself to death in 2014. (Family Photo)

Dennis Hobb, executive director of the McClendon Center, a mental health services nonprofit in Washington, D.C. (Davon Harris, Urban Health Media Project)