Birth and death rates fell in Alaska last year; rates of death from alcohol and overdose remain high

An emergency sign outside a hospital.
Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Birth and death rates declined in Alaska in 2022, according to the Alaska department of health’s annual report on trends released Oct. 16. The report shows that birth rates have been slightly down in the state and that the death rate has decreased after a rise during the COVID pandemic. 

Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said it was good to see improvements. Deaths from tobacco use and rates of pregnant women using tobacco declined, as did the teen birth rate. 

But, she said stressors like the pandemic have likely also pushed overdose rates high. Although the rate of deaths to overdose fell slightly from last year, she said 2022 was the first year the number of deaths from overdose surpassed the number of deaths from suicide. 

“It’s a combination of not only your stressors that have happened, including the pandemic over the past few years, but fentanyl is really driving this as well,” Zink said. “So, about 70% of our overdoses have fentanyl involved in them.”

She said it’s important to note that many of those fentanyl overdoses are from counterfeit pills and single pills can have enough fentanyl to cause an overdose

Zink said that there’s been an increase in what is sometimes called “deaths of despair,” which includes suicide, overdose and deaths from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. Liver disease and cirrhosis are often caused by excessive drinking of alcohol or hepatitis. 

“I think that really speaks to the role that we can all play in trying to address everything from loneliness to mental health to connection to resources for medication assisted therapy, or alcohol treatment centers,” Zink said. 

She noted that in Alaska, one of the biggest sources of years of life lost is from accidents because if a child or young person dies, they are losing many years of potential life. The age-adjusted death rate is down from last year but has risen over the past five years.

“I think that there’s a lot that can be done there: everything from suicide prevention to opioid overdose prevention to wearing a helmet to not driving drunk,” Zink said. 

The report also notes marriage and separation rates. Marriage was slightly up in 2022. Divorce was slightly down. And the most popular baby names for the year in Alaska were Oliver, Liam, Aurora and Charlotte. 

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Rachel Cassandra covers health and wellness for Alaska Public Media. Reach her Read more about Rachel here.

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