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Northerners at highest risk of death from alcohol, drugs and suicide

Northerners at highest risk of death from alcohol, drugs and suicide

People who live in some of the most deprived communities in the North of England are more than twice as likely to die from alcohol, drugs and suicide than in other parts of the country, a new study has shown.

Between 2019 and 2021, 46,200 people lost their lives as a result of substance misuse and suicide, the equivalent of 42 people per day, and mortality rates were higher in the northern and coastal areas.

Researchers from the University of Manchester found that alcohol-specific deaths made up 44.1 per cent of deaths of this nature, sometimes referred to as ‘deaths of despair’.

The findings, published in the Social Science and Medicine Journal, provide insights into the inequality and social factors that cause these avoidable deaths.

The researchers, led by academics from Health Equity North (HEN), The University of Manchester and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration Greater Manchester (ARC-GM), analysed data from 307 local authority areas within England to identify geographical trends and risk factors that contribute to these kind of deaths. The North of England was defined as the North East, North West, Yorkshire and The Humber regions and had an aggregate population of 15.5 million.

Living in the North was found to be the strongest predictor of death by alcohol, drugs or suicide, with northern regions and coastal areas of England having much higher rates of death than other areas. On average, 14.8 per 100,000 more people die from ‘deaths of despair’ in the North compared to the rest of England. The city of Blackpool has the highest rates of deaths, being  2.5 times above the national average for these types of deaths.

Deaths from drugs, alcohol and suicide accounted for 2.9% of all deaths in England and were highest among people aged 45-54 (55 per 100,000). Alcohol-specific deaths made up almost half (44.1 per cent) of these deaths in England.

Geographical location was strongly associated with rates of deaths. More than twice as many people in the North East of England lost their lives due to alcohol and drug use or suicide compared to London, and out of the 20 local authority areas that experience the highest rates of these avoidable deaths, 16 are in the North. None of the 20 local authorities with the lowest ‘deaths of despair’ rates are in the North.

In addition to geographical location, the researchers found that certain social factors strongly predict ‘deaths of despair’. Local authorities with higher proportions of unemployment, white British ethnicity, people living alone, economic inactivity, employment in elementary occupations, and people living in urban areas had higher rates of mortality from alcohol, drug and suicide-related deaths.

The researchers said that the risk factors highlighted in their study have a more pronounced effect in the North because of persistent and widening health and wealth inequalities compared to the rest of the country. They are calling on the Government to prioritise preventative policies that address these longstanding inequalities and allow fair funding to be distributed according to need.

Dr Luke Munford, co-academic director at Health Equity North and senior lecturer at the University of Manchester, said: ‘Time and time again, we see research exposing regional inequity with the North of England often being hit the hardest. Unsurprisingly, the findings of this study further highlight the persistent health inequalities in northern regions. This can’t be ignored.’

He added: ‘This research provides policymakers with a novel insight into the associated social factors of deaths of despair, which can help when developing comprehensive strategies that not only target specific risk factors but also consider the intricate relationships among these causes, contributing to more effective prevention and intervention efforts.’


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