The US death rate rose last year for the first time in a decade, a rare increase that was driven in part by more people dying from drug overdoses, alcoholism and suicide, newly released government figures show.
The overall death rate rose to nearly 730 deaths per 100,000 people in 2015, from about 723 per 100,000 in 2014, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) reported Thursday.
“It’s an uptick in mortality and that doesn’t usually happen, so it’s significant,” said Robert Anderson, the chief of mortality statistics at the NCHS, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“But the question is, what does it mean? We really need more data to know. If we start looking at 2016 and we see another rise, we’ll be a lot more concerned,” he said.
The death rate for suicide for the 12-month period ending with the third quarter of 2015 was 13.6 per 100,000, higher than 13.2 per 100,000 for the same period of 2014, the NCHS report said.
Last month, the CDC reported that suicide rates went up in 2014 and had risen by 24 percent since 1999, to 13 suicides for every 100,000 people.
Gun deaths also went up, from 10.5 per 100,000 in 2014 to 11.2 in 2015.
The same was true for drug overdoses. The death rate for overdoses rose to 15.2 per 100,000 in 2015, compared with 14.1 in the same quarter of 2014.
The finding seems to fit the broader pattern of rising mortality among working-class whites. Last year, a paper by Princeton University researchers documented rising death rates among middle-age white Americans, particularly those with no more than a high school education.
“We are not accustomed to seeing death rates increase on a national scale,” said Andrew Fenelon, a researcher at the CDC who did not work on the paper. “We’ve seen increases in mortality for some groups, but it is quite rare to see it for the whole population.”
The report comes as the US birth rate declined last year, a sign of continuing pressure on the country’s population growth. There were 3.98 million births in the US in 2015, down 0.3 percent from 2014.