Jan 18, 2024 - News

Alcohol deaths spiking in Pennsylvania

Alcohol-induced deaths per 100k people, 2021
Data: KFF; Map: Axios Visuals

Alcohol-related deaths are spiking in Pennsylvania, mirroring a national trend.

Why it matters: While city and state policymakers have largely focused on combating the opioid crisis in recent years, little attention has been paid to limiting alcohol abuse.

  • Alcohol kills more people than drug overdoses in the Keystone State, per recent CDC and state estimates.

Driving the news: Alcohol-related deaths in every state and Washington more than doubled between 2009 and 2021, per the latest figures from KFF.

  • In 2021, the Keystone State's rate was 47th in the U.S. at 9.4 deaths per 100,000 people, nearly double 2009's rate of 4.8.
  • The national rate was 14.4 in 2021, per KFF.

By the numbers: Pennsylvanians consume an average of about 522 drinks a year, slightly below the national average of 536, per the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

  • 17% of Pennsylvania residents binge drink — the same as the national figure, per the CDC.
  • There were an average of more than 5,700 annual alcohol-related deaths in the state between 2015-19. Drug overdose deaths ranged from 3,119-5,425 annually during the same period.
Data: KFF; Map: Axios Visuals
Data: KFF; Map: Axios Visuals

Zoom out: New Mexico had the highest alcohol-induced death rate in the U.S. at 50 per 100,000 people, followed by South Dakota at 42.8.

Of note: Deaths caused by alcohol spiked during the first year of the pandemic in the U.S., Axios' Sareen Habeshian writes.

Between the lines: Hiking alcohol taxes and limiting when and where people can buy alcohol have been shown to prevent excessive alcohol abuse, per a federal task force.

The intrigue: Pennsylvania has some of the most restrictive liquor laws in the nation.

  • But regulations began loosening in 2016, which allowed for more locations, like grocery stores, to sell beer and wine.

What they're saying: Henry Kranzler, psychologist and director of Penn's Center for Studies of Addiction, tells Axios the dangers of alcohol use often go unrecognized compared to opioids.

  • "Alcohol has a peculiar place in our culture," he said. "It's part of a lot of activities."
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