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The Impact of Drug Overdose and Suicide Deaths in Rust Belt States. In recent years, we have witnessed many celebrities losing their lives to drug overdose, whether it was through prescribed drugs or illicit ones. Unfortunately, this trend has become increasingly prevalent, with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting 99,543 overdose deaths in the United States in a 12-month period ending in September 2021. 36 percent of these drug overdose deaths occurred in the Rust Belt states, which we cover in our analysis (Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin), totaling 27,273 deaths.

The Rust Belt region also reported a staggering 11,020 suicide deaths, with Pennsylvania having the highest number of deaths (1677). Males were more impacted, accounting for 80.2% of the 11,020 deaths, and White and Black non-Hispanics were the highest race/ethnicity groups affected, with White non-Hispanics accounting for 9,249 suicide deaths. Between 2014 and 2020, the number of Black suicide deaths in the region increased every year, with an overall 51% increase during this period.

We focus on these states because they are where many Black people migrated to in the 50s and 60s to escape the Jim Crow south but have since experienced urban decline characterized by population loss, high levels of unemployment and poverty, and the deterioration of housing and public infrastructure. These issues impact more than just small pockets, as we can see from analyzing the entire region.

The urban decline began due to various reasons such as “redlining,” which led to an increase in drug use and sales. The “war on drugs,” written into law during the Ronald Reagan administration, was an attempt to curb the drug problem. However, it turned out to have a mental health impact on inmates, as research has shown that mental health challenges are more prevalent among prison inmates than the general population.

Rust Belt cities in the United States have historically faced economic challenges, including struggles with poverty. The decline in manufacturing and the closure of factories have led to high levels of unemployment and poverty in some areas. Despite efforts to revitalize Rust Belt cities and diversify their economies, poverty rates have remained a challenge for many. Nevertheless, some cities have experienced revitalization in recent years by promoting entrepreneurship and investing in infrastructure and education.

Overall, while Rust Belt cities have faced significant economic challenges and higher poverty rates in the past, efforts are being made to address these issues and create a more prosperous future.