Unlike rates for every other age and racial group, death rates among middle-aged white Americans are rising, not falling, to the surprise of many experts. More surprising still, two Princeton economists who analyzed recent mortality rates attribute the rise to drug and alcohol addiction as well as mental health problems.
After assessing health and mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other sources, Angus Deaton and Anne Case concluded that surges in suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholic liver disease largely propelled the rise in death rates between 1999 and 2013, according to the report published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Only H.I.V./AIDS in contemporary times has done anything like this,” Dr. Deaton commented in The New York Times.
Although deaths increased for whites across age groups and education levels, they did so most strikingly among the middle-aged with a high school education or less. Poorly educated American whites are dying at such a high rate that they are increasing the death rate for the entire group of middle-aged white Americans.
The Princeton researchers and others see a strong link between the increase in death rates and the effects of the opioid addiction epidemic, which took off in 1999 and now claims 46 lives a day. The majority of those who overdosed fatally on prescription painkillers between 1999 and 2013 were white, and the highest rates of death occurred in the 45- to- 54 age group. Indeed, painkiller and heroin addiction have devastated many white, middle-class suburbs across the country, sparking a more appropriate and effective approach to drug use—an emphasis on treatment over incarceration and calls to end stigma. Historically, similar drug use by minority populations prompted harsh sentencing and resulted in overcrowded prisons, with many inmates needing addiction and mental health treatment.
The report demonstrates that the addiction epidemic has had a far greater impact on public health than previously believed. David. M. Cutler, a Harvard health care economist, said deaths from opioid overdoses were considered blips in the health care statistics—but the new paper, he said, “shows those blips are more like incoming missiles.”
Source: Wall Street Journal –
The New York Times–