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Study shows ‘troubling’ rise in Iowa’s suicide rate, deaths from drugs/alcohol

DES MOINES — A new report finds deaths in Iowa from alcohol, drugs and suicide have risen sharply in recent years and the outlook will likely continue to worsen.

John Auerbach, president and CEO of Trust for America’s Health, says the latest figures for Iowa are “very troubling” and the pandemic is only making matters worse.

“Alcohol-related deaths up 7% in just one year, drug-related deaths up 20% in just one year, and suicides are up 8%,” Auerbach says. “Those percentages were a lot higher than the average for the rest of the country so it’s an indication that more attention is necessary within the state.”

The report is based on figures from 2019, which he says is the last year for which the researchers had complete data. All indications, he says, point to a worsening of the figures across all categories for 2020 as the pandemic brought more stress.

“When more Americans are in crisis, we see deteriorating mental health and more substance use,” Auerbach says. “We’ve got some warning signs already. There was a 900% increase in calls to the National Mental Health Crisis Hotline in 2020.”

Without urgent action, he says mental health issues and substance use — which are already on a grim trajectory — will continue to rise. The report recommends several courses Iowa’s leaders could follow.

“Making sure people have access to care,” Auerbach says. “That means making sure they have access to comprehensive health care and we have parity in offering the services that come for mental health and substance abuse. They should be equal to the services that are accessible for physical health.”

He says the prevention of illness and injury should be a national priority, adding, Iowans also need to work hard to combat misperceptions.

“Stigma against mental health and substance use keeps families from talking about problems that are existing among their family members or friends,” Auerbach says, “or judging those as being ethical failures rather than medical issues that need attention.”

Over the last decade, the number of alcohol, drug related, and suicide deaths increased by 52 percent nationwide, while during 2019, alcohol and drug-induced deaths increased, while suicide rates were slightly lower.

The report is called “Pain in the Nation: Alcohol, Drug and Suicide Deaths.” See the full report from the nonprofit, nonpartisan Trust for America’s Health.

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