New study shows death rates increasing for middle-aged whites

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – A new study out of Princeton University shows the U.S. death rate is falling, but death rates for one group are steadily ticking up. For white people ages 45 to 54, death rates have risen half a percent every year since 1998. So we’re taking a look at this issue locally.

The research says drug overdose and alcohol abuse are the main drivers in the increase in suicide and death among middle-aged whites. They say it’s related to the increased availability of certain prescription painkillers around the late 90s. So we did some research to see how we compare here in the East.

WNCT covers 29 counties. Of those, suicide was one of the top 10 leading causes of death for 20 to 39-year-olds in all but 2 counties. From 2010 to 2014, suicide accounted for more than 12 deaths per 100,000 people in North Carolina. Pitt County falls a little behind that, at just over 10 per 100,000 people. 78 of these suicides were whites; only 9 were not. Onslow County, where we have a strong military community, saw a significantly higher rate, with more than 17 per 100,000. They reported 152 total suicides; 139 of which were whites.

WNCT sat down with local doctors to see what’s being done to combat these rising numbers. Psychotherapist Sean Pumphrey says there’s room for improvement.

“Both medical health and mental health resources are shifting dramatically here in North Carolina and also here in the East. If we do a better job with both, we will see a turn around,” Pumphrey said.

Local doctors cite unemployment, increased use of painkillers, and lack of education as contributing factors.

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