Humboldt County is a dangerous place to be, and a big part of the problem is us.
That has to be one of the key takeaways from the latest annual County Health Status Profiles report from the California Department of Public Health.
Granted, we’re no longer the most dangerous county in the state, as we were back in 2010. Nor are we the second most dangerous, as we were in 2011. No, this year we wound up in the same position as last year: sixth among California’s 58 counties on the list of where you’re most likely to buy the farm.
But what’s even more alarming is how Humboldt County residents seem more than willing to meet the Grim Reaper halfway, often cashing in our chips not through natural causes but with our own reckless behavior.
Here’s what we mean: Among counties with reliable data, Humboldt County has the highest rates of death from firearms, car crashes and suicides, and we’re second-highest in how frequently we die from drugs, chronic liver disease and unintentional injuries. (That last one’s just embarrassing.)
We also have the highest rate of death by strokes, but you can’t really blame the victims there.
Let’s look a bit closer, starting with those gun deaths. This category covers homicides, suicides, accidental discharges, you name it. During the period covered by this report (2012-2015), California’s crude death rate from firearm-related injuries was 7.7 per 100,000 population, or roughly one death for every 12,908 people each year.
Humboldt County’s rate over that same stretch was more than twice as high, coming in tied with Shasta County for the highest rate in the state at 17.1 gun-related deaths per 100,000 residents annually. That’s roughly one death for every 5,650 people, which in Humboldt County works out to more than 23 per year.
For the sixth year in a row, Humboldt County has the highest suicide rate in California.
(One thing worth mentioning: The California Department of Public Health omits counties in these rankings when the “rates are deemed unreliable” due to small sample sizes. We’ve chosen not to include or analyze any of those omitted data.)
Humboldt residents also die in car crashes at more than twice the rate as Californians generally. Statewide the rate is 8.5 per 100,000; here it’s 19.5 per 100,000.
What’s even more surprising than all of the above (to us, anyway) is how often people die by mistake — in California generally but especially here in Humboldt. Statewide more than 30 people per 100,000 died from some sort of accident/unintentional injury each year between 2012 and 2015. Here in Humboldt the rate was 70.9 per 100,000. That works out to 97 county residents per year dying by mistake.
But lest we write off our elevated death rate as the result of hillbilly bumbling or good ol’ rugged rural living, our problems appear to run deeper, into our very psyches. Tragically, we kill ourselves at nearly two-and-a-half times the state rate. For the sixth year in a row, Humboldt has the highest suicide rate in California. It came in at 26.3 per 100,000 in this year’s report, compared to a statewide rate of 10.6. That works out to 36 Humboldt County residents killing themselves per year.
But let’s not wallow in doom and gloom. There have been some improvements in recent years. From the 2010-2012 time window to the current 2013-2015 window, Humboldt County’s age-adjusted death rate declined in a number of categories including:
- Cancers (all of ‘em together)
- Colorectal cancer and lung cancer, specifically
- Coronary heart disease
- Chronic lower respiratory disease
One last thing we noticed: Gonorrhea has run positively rampant over Humboldt County in recent years. Among females age 18-44 the rate went from 85.2 per 100,000 between 2010-2012 to 300.7 in 2013-2015, a whopping 350 percent increase. Among males the rate went from 65.7 to 293.1, a 446 percent jump.
(Need to read up on gonorrhea? Here ya go.)
If you’d like to dig through the full report, click the link below for a pdf.
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DOCUMENT: County Health Status Profiles 2017