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Drug, Cardiovascular Deaths Push Tennessee Down to 45th in Health Ranking

The number of deaths from drugs and deaths from cardiovascular disease are among the reasons Tennessee slipped a spot in the annual health ranking from United Health Foundation.

The number of drug deaths nationally increased 7 percent over the last five years, but those in Tennessee jumped 27 percent in the same time, said Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare Retiree Solutions.

Premature deaths in the U.S., defined as deaths before age 75, rose for the third year in a row, which is striking to researchers given a decline in those deaths from 1990 to 2015.

The rapid rise in the rates of death from drugs is the highest "we've seen it in the 28 years of this report," said Randall of the findings in the 2017 America's Health Rankings, which ranks 35 determinants of overall health.

Tennessee performed among the worst in the country on many of the measures, including smoking, obesity and diabetes. It fell a spot from 44 to 45.

The state is facing some of the same issues rampant across the country — rising premature death rates, uneven concentrations of physicians and deaths. But Tennessee also grapples with higher-than-average rates of violent crime and fewer mental health professionals.

The prevalence of mental health providers is a key measure, Randall said.

Among its strengths, the state has less health disparity between education levels and low levels of excessive drinking and pertussis, or whooping cough.

Randall said one way to approach the state's persistent problem areas is to take what it's learned from cutting down on pertussis and apply those lessons to smoking cessation or treating high cholesterol.

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