Spike in Drug Deaths and Health Disparities Overshadow Other Health Gains in 2017 America's Health Rankings

Izzy Okparanta

Our nation’s health has improved in some areas but serious health challenges remain related to the escalating drug crisis and disparities in access to care. United Health Foundation’s 2017 America’s Health Rankings report indicates smoking prevalence, the rate of preventable hospitalizations and the percentage of uninsured Americans have declined, but the drug death rate has trended upward.

In the past year, drug deaths reached the highest level recorded by America’s Health Rankings, increasing by 7%, particularly among whites. Even states that consistently rank among the healthiest in the nation saw increased mortality rates due to the drug epidemic. Over the past five years, drug death rates increased by 118% in New Hampshire, 69% in Massachusetts and 56% in Rhode Island. More than six out of 10 of these drug overdose deaths involved an opioid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In October, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency. Nearly 60% of Americans support increased federal funding for research to better understand and combat opioid addiction, according to a survey commissioned by Research!America.

The premature death rate increased by 3% since 2015, following a 20% drop between 1990 and 2015. Cardiovascular deaths increased for the second consecutive year, 2% since 2015, most significantly among blacks. An uneven concentration of health care providers across the country may account for differences in health on a state-by-state basis.

“This report serves as an important tool for health care professionals, policymakers and communities in their collaborative efforts to address these challenges, and help build healthier communities across the nation,” said Rhonda Randall, D.O., senior adviser to United Health Foundation, and chief medical officer, UnitedHealthcare Retiree Solutions. “This is a call to action for each of us to make changes in our own lifestyles that can help improve our overall health and well-being.”

After five years as the nation’s healthiest state, Hawaii was bumped to second place by Massachusetts. Vermont, Utah and Connecticut rounded out the list of top five healthiest states. Mississippi once again was ranked the least healthy state, followed by Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and West Virginia. The least healthy states were also among those with the lowest concentration of health care providers.

Click here to read the full report.

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