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People struggling with diseases of despair among us

Despair. The very word brings visions of sadness and sorrow to empathetic people who can feel deeply the emotions of others. Despair is “the complete loss or absence of hope.”

When you think of the most despairing moments in your life, does it give you any insight about others who struggle in a sea of depression and hopelessness? From where do you draw on the well of hope? How do any of us find our way out of the darkness and into the light?

Recently I was given a “final report,” “Appalachian Diseases of Despair,” which was prepared for the Appalachian Regional Commission “to study disparities related to diseases of despair in the Appalachian Region,” of which this county is a part.

Diseases of despair? What does that refer to exactly?

— Alcohol, prescription drug, and illegal drug overdose.

— Suicide.

— Alcoholic liver disease/cirrhosis of the liver.

These are the diseases or deaths of despair … what can happen when one has no hope, when they feel completely lost.

This county is in the northern region of Appalachia. Between 2012 and 2017, overall mortality increased by nearly 10 percent.

“The rise in the all-cause mortality rate between 2012 and 2017 coincides with the surge in opioid deaths in the United States,” write the report’s authors. In 2018, they continue, the rate dropped nearly two percent, “likely driven by declines in the drug overdose mortality” in the Appalachian Region. By the looks of it, data for 2019 from the CDC shows increased drug overdose deaths in 2019, a possible impact of Covid-19.

“In all the years between 1999 and 2018, the suicide mortality rate in the Appalachian Region (53 percent) was statistically higher than the rate in” the rest of the United States (40 percent). The authors found that, “While the overdose mortality rate declined between 2017 and 2018, the suicide and liver disease/cirrhosis mortality rates continued to increase.” The 35-44 age group is thought most affected, 60 percent higher than non-Appalachian America. This age group is in its prime, workers who are expected to be gainfully employed and having an effect on the economic health of the region.

Economically distressed counties, they say, have higher mortality rates for overdose, suicide, and liver disease/cirrhosis.

“More detailed analysis of opioid-related overdose deaths showed that in 2018, opioids caused 70 percent, or 4,548 deaths, in Appalachia.”

A truth everyone needs to be aware of, to understand, is that the images you may have of the people who reside in Appalachia aren’t as accurate as you might think. This place where we live is a part of Appalachia. People struggling with diseases of despair are here among us, people who hide behind the nice clothes, their electronics, their choices of tattoos and body piercings, the business they may own … a disease of despair could happen to anyone, the complete loss they feel, the hopelessness that prevents them seeing how to rise above the black, bottomless pit where they are to the light they can find with recovery.

The diseases of despair, heartbreaking. But everyone has the power to make a difference with a bit of compassion, a willingness to offer a hand up toward the light. All of these things are why everyone of us is a stakeholder in what happens in our community.

Addiction has no address, but Family Recovery Center does. For more information about the education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related behavioral issues, contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or email, info@familyrecovery.org. Visit the website at familyrecovery.org. FRC is funded in part by United Way of Northern Columbiana County.

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