Mortality rate rise reflected locally

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Mortality rates for white Americans at middle age have risen in recent years while rates for other demographic groups have fallen, according to research by economists at Princeton University.

In September 2015, researchers released this report, pointing out that mortality rates rose by half a percent each year between 1998 and 2013 for white Americans, while the rates for other groups fell. Among the reasons for the increase, according to the report, was a spike in poisoning deaths, particularly those caused by heroin and opioid abuse.

Antonio Brown of the Macon County Sheriff’s Department said officers here have seen a similar explosion of opioid and heroin abuse, adding that often, those addicted to prescription painkillers switch to heroin because of cost or availability. He said the department is working to prevent overdose deaths which can occur when someone resumes heroin use after having quit.

“Individuals that try to get off of it and stay clean, when they get back on heroin, they go back to the dosage they used to use, and (their) body’s no longer used to that,” Brown said.

Brown said officers in the department now carry special kits with an antidote that can prevent overdose deaths.

“When someone wants help, don’t look at law enforcement as someone who’s always looking to lock people up and things like that,” Brown said. “We want to be those individuals that are trying to help (put) families back together.”

Another factor that may have contributed to the increase in mortality rates among middle-aged whites is an increase in rates of suicide. Tim Macken, Chief Operating Officer of Heritage Behavioral Health in Decatur, said a lack of economic opportunity may be contributing to that increase.

“One theory on that is that it relates to the socioeconomic situation … the constricted job market,” Macken said. “That’s mostly anecdotal.”

Macken said Heritage offers help for people in a wide variety of situations including drug addiction and people who are considering suicide, but he said stigma about addiction or mental health keeps some people from seeking help.

“That’s certainly something that’s going to weigh on them … but we’re here to say there is hope and there is help,” Macken said.

Heritage offers a crisis hotline at (217) 362-6262.

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