Working-age Ohioans — between 15 and 64 years old — are dying at a 51% higher rate than they were 15 years ago, according to analysis released this month.
In a bleak sign, most leading causes of death are increasing, rather than decreasing among the age group. For instance, unintentional injuries like fatal overdoses and car crashes increased by 123% over the time frame, according to a report from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio.
Deaths due to chronic liver disease increased by 74%, homicide deaths increased by 62%, and other leading causes experienced smaller increases as well.
The only leading cause of death that decreased within the age group was cancer, by 11%.
“Deaths are the tip of the iceberg, signaling broad problems below the surface that affect even more Ohioans,” the report states. “The increasing death rate among working-age Ohioans indicates that issues such as mental health, addiction and violence are not being adequately addressed.”
The raw number of working-age Ohioans decreased over the time frame. But after adjusting for the population shifts, the analysis found death rates in the age group leapt by 51%. Older adults, for comparison, only experienced a 36% higher death rate. Children, in contrast, saw a 16% decrease in their death rates.
While COVID-19 played a role in the age group’s increased death rate, the data shows it’s not the driving factor. In 2021, COVID-19 was the fourth leading cause of death. Separate data from the Ohio Department of Health shows nearly 5,000 Ohioans between 20 and 59 years old have died from COVID-19.
The most prominent killers of the age group from high to low: unintentional injuries, cancer, heart disease, COVID-19, suicide, diabetes, chronic liver disease, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke and other cerebrovascular diseases, and homicide.
Amy Stevens, Vice President of HPIO, said it’s troubling seeing life expectancies shrinking. She noted the increases in overdoses and liver disease — both tied to substance use — as well as homicide and suicide increases.
“I think there’s definitely a story here about addiction and firearms as being driving forces,” she said.
The researchers drew a line between the death trends and current labor shortages noted across markets. According to data from the Federal Reserve, the labor force participation rate in Ohio has fallen from 67% in 2007 to 61.5% in 2022.
The finding in Ohio roughly tracks with upticks in what public health researchers call “diseases of despair.” After a decades-long trend of increasing life expectancy, epidemiologists began to notice upticks in deaths from suicide, overdoses and liver disease around 2014, especially among middle aged white men.
One study using insurance claim data between 2009 and 2018 from millions of Highmark members — who are disproportionately residents of states with high overdose rates like Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware — found a 44% increase in incidences of diseases of despair. That includes upticks in alcohol related diagnoses (23%), substance use disorders (48%) and suicide (149%).
Other research found Ohio experienced some of the highest increases in midlife mortality of any state in the nation.
This story was originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal and is republished here with permission.