The study, performed by the University of Washington in Seattle (UW) and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on December 13, charted the 21 most-frequent causes of death in America’s 3,000-plus counties. Its intention was to discover trends in the variance of death rates between counties. For example, the study found that deaths from cancer increased in rural areas but fell in many cities, contributing to a 20 percent decline in cancer-related deaths since 1980.
Some of the most striking statistics gathered from the far-ranging study regarded deaths from mental disorders and substance abuse. "The mortality rate due to mental and substance use disorders increased by 188%," according to the study, adding, "overall between 1980 and 2014 and also increased in nearly every county (99.1%.)"
The UW study found a tremendous level of variance in the size of increases, including that "there were several clusters of counties (in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, western Pennsylvania, and east-central Missouri) where mortality rates increased by more than 1000% during this period."
The highest death-rate increase, in Clermont County, Ohio, was recorded at an astounding 2,206 percent. With a population of just under 200,000, the county has become one of the epicenters of America’s heroin epidemic, which has nearly quadrupled overdose rates since 1999, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In September 2015, the CDC reported that Clermont had America’s fourth-highest overdose rate, and the highest in the state of Ohio.
Ray Synder, Clermont County’s Goshen Township police chief, told Cincinnati.com that, "In the early '80s (heroin) was rare, we called them junkies and they were typically from inner cities. You just never saw it, never really heard of it. Now it's every single day." Clermont County sheriff AJ Rodenberg told Cincinnati that heroin has increased the county’s jail population, from "12-15" women in 1997 to the "60s and 70s" in 2015.
According to the UW study, other rising causes of death since 1980 include diabetes, urogenital, blood, and endocrine diseases (21 percent), and neurological disorders (18.7 percent). Most of the causes of death charted by UW have fallen since 1980, with the most drastic decreases being cardiovascular diseases (down 50.2 percent) and self-harm and interpersonal violence (down 22.1 percent).