Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health board hears about local health challenges

The discussion topic was called “Disturbing Public Health Trends and Call to Action,” and Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health board members heard about a wide range of problems during their meeting Monday night at Citizens Square.

Here are some of the highlights from the presentation by health department staff and people working at other local community organizations:

• In 2015, researchers found the death rate for middle-aged, white Americans has risen dramatically since 1999. The three most common causes of what Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan called “deaths of despair” are suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.

• Many of the deaths are related to the treatable mental health problems of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But the diseases control the brain, leaving people vulnerable to making bad decisions, such as coping by using drugs, smoking or overeating.

Internet access makes it even easier for people to make bad choices, McMahan said.

• Drug abuse trends show rising use of fentanyl and illegal drugs. Fentanyl, which some people began using instead of heroin, resulted in 62 deaths during 2017 in Allen County, up from five deaths in 2013. Heroin deaths rose to 30 last year from one in 2013.

Overall, Allen County had 1,200 drug poisoning incidents in 2017 and 127 of those people died.

• Suicide deaths in Allen County rose to 75 in 2017, up from 52 in 2016 and 60 in 2015. Statewide, suicide rates are up nearly 32 percent since 1999. Indiana has the second highest suicide rate nationally among people ages 15-34.

• Last year, a study of residents of northeast Indiana found 31 percent of high school students and 40 percent of college students have severe to moderate depression. About 71 percent of Indiana youth with depression aren’t receiving treatment for it.

• The percentage of high school teens who smoke has dropped to about 10 percent, but use of electronic nicotine delivery systems, such as the Juul, is climbing. E-cigarettes contain nicotine, can encourage youth to try regular cigarettes and cause second-hand smoke dangers.

• Indiana is part of the outbreak of hepatitis A that has occurred in various parts of the country. The state normally would have about 20 cases per year, but it already has had 220 cases as of last Friday. Allen County has seen nine cases of hepatitis A this year, up from the previous high of three cases in 2016.


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