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Missouri resident deaths reached a record high for the sixth consecutive year, according to a report last month from the Bureau of Vital Statistics, a division of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Total deaths across the state increased by 2%, from 61,866 in 2017 to 63,110 last year, reflecting Missouri’s aging population, the report said. Most of the top leading causes of death remain unchanged and include diseases and illnesses currently under research for better cures and treatment, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and diabetes.

But what shocks us is just how many of these deaths — primarily those that are due to external factors — could have been prevented. 

• The largest percentage increases in deaths were for pneumonia and influenza (15.1%) and suicide (6.6%). The pneumonia and influenza mortality rate reflects a serious flu epidemic in early 2018.

• Death rates for people aged 15-24 and 25-44 rose nearly 30% from 2012 to 2018. The death rate for people aged 25-34 is at its highest level since the 1950s.

• From 2008 to 2018, suicides increased by 53.5%.

• From 2008 to 2018, accidental deaths increased by 33.6%. Most of that is attributed to drug overdoses.

• Opioid-related deaths doubled from 468 in 2008 to 1,132 in 2018. Fentanyl was the principal drug, contributing to nearly 75% of opioid-related deaths.

• Firearm-related deaths increased by more than 50% from 2008 to 2018, when there were 726 firearm-related suicides and 557 firearm-related homicides.

Missouri, we don’t have to keep dying like this. In most cases, we unfortunately can’t control whether we’ll be struck by cancer or develop Alzheimer’s, but we can control whether we get our flu shot this fall or check in with our neighbor who has expressed suicidal thoughts in the past.

We can and should create a better quality of life for ourselves by getting our flu shots regularly and investing in suicide prevention efforts and programs that help with substance abuse and opioid addiction. Our state will be healthier for it — and our lives longer for it.

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