Report: COVID-19 and opioid overdoses drive up death rates for young and middle-aged adults, while older adults see death rates decline
The rate at which young adults in Wisconsin are dying is rising while older adults are seeing their death rates go down.
Those are some of the major take-a-ways from recently released data by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Wisconsin Policy Forum compared the rate of death for 18 ages groups between the years 2001 and 2021.
The good news is it found deaths plummet for newborns and people over 65. That’s despite the COVID-19 pandemic which disproportionately killed older adults.
Mark Sommerhauser is the communications director and policy researcher for Wisconsin Policy Forum. He’s the lead author on the Policy Forum’s latest report on mortality trends in the state.
Sommerhauser says the numbers show we’ve made progress over the last two decades in fighting some of the most common types of diseases that kill people, like heart disease, cancer, and flu and pneumonia.
“They really were declining steadily from 2001 onward. Just kind of going down, down, down each year. Then we reached 2020 and, of course unfortunately, they go up because of COVID-19. But not enough to offset the declines from 2001 to 2019,” he said. “Had we not had a once in a century global pandemic occur these declines in mortality in older adults would actually be that much larger.”
The bad news from the data is that the age groups between 25 and 64 all had increased death rates between 2001 and 2021.
The 30 to 34 age group, for example, saw its death rate rise by 137% over the two decades, according to the report.
It’s important to keep in mind that because these ages groups don’t have as high of death rate to begin with, it doesn’t take as much to raise them.
Sommerhauser found the deaths from COVID-19 and opioid overdoses were the two biggest drivers for the rising death rates for people in their prime ages.
“I hadn’t looked at the exact numbers, I knew that those drug overdose deaths were up quite dramatically. I didn’t realize quite how dramatically until I actually pulled up the data. To see that those numbers were so great that they were increasing total deaths, total mortality, among that age bracket. That was really just staggering,” said Sommerhauser.
The report also found Black people disproportionately experience higher rates of deaths.
For Black Wisconsinites, overdoses and homicides are the two prominent causes of deaths driving up the death rates.
In 2021, a Black, non-Hispanic Wisconsinite was nearly 32 times more likely to die from homicide than a white, non-Hispanic Wisconsinite.
Those rates are higher in Wisconsin than when compared to the national trends.
In 2021, the overdose mortality rate for Black Wisconsinites was more than twice the rate for all Black Americans.
“I think a lot of us have heard that this is an area Wisconsin really struggles in is racial disparities in a whole host of outcomes and areas. I can’t say that we were totally shocked to see these disparities, but the magnitude of them did surprise me,” said Sommerhauser.
Some good news is that with better treatment options and COVID vaccines readily available, deaths from COVID-19 are declining.
The state and counties are also getting money from opioid settlements that should help fight overdoses.
Sommerhauser says the Wisconsin Policy Forum doesn’t advocate for certain bills or policy changes, but he does hope this report leads to discussions on what policy steps can be taken to reverse these death rate trends in young and middle age adults.