Drug deaths are on the rise, and understanding who they affect and why is key to fixing the problem.
According to the New York Times, drug overdose deaths have driven up fatalities among young white adults. Conversely, death rates for black youth have been falling. Not since the Vietnam War have young white persons seen more deaths than the previous generation.
And remember, this occurred in the midst of major advances in medicine, which have reduced deaths from many common natural causes such as heart disease. Thus, drug overdose deaths have mitigated medicinal advances in chronic disease for adult whites. Suicide rates among young adults have increased, as well.
The Statistics Look Bleak
The data was analyzed from death certificates (1990-2014) garnered from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The death rates for whites either rose or remained steady for all adult groups under age 65. This trend was even more evident among women. And it rose faster for the less educated, particularly those without a complete high school education.
Drug overdose deaths for whites 25-34 increased five-fold over 15 years (1999-2014). Also, overdose fatalities for whites 35-44 tripled. Drugs included both illicit and prescription medications.
Meanwhile, death rates for young blacks has been falling, largely due to decline in AIDS deaths. Drug overdose deaths are up slightly, but still the gap between white and black young adult deaths is rapidly closing. If the trend continues, the death rates may be equal in under a decade.
What’s Race Got to Do With It?
So why are blacks less likely to be the victims of drug overdoses? Simple – racial profiling. One prevailing theory is that fewer black and minorities are being prescribed opiate painkillers, which are highly addictive.
It is thought that these medicines have contributed to an increase in heroin use. Even on their own, however, they are responsible for many more deaths. But in any case, there is no one factor which can completely explain what is happening.
Yet another theory poses that there are an increasing number of whites not getting a foothold into the economy. Those who are struggling might turn to cheap drugs and alcohol to ease the pain of poverty, stress, isolation, and violence. And the fact that death rates are rising more sharply among the less educated may support this idea.
Mortality rates are a very effective measure of the quality of life of any given people. Compared to other first world countries, death rates for middle-aged whites are rising dramatically. And many experts believe that what these statistics reveal does not bode well for the future.
What’s Gender Got to Do With It?
According to the data analyzed by the New York Times, white men are dying from drug overdoses more often than blacks, Hispanics and white women.
A few months back, researchers at Princeton University found that middle-aged men experienced an increase in death rate from 1999-2013. This was mainly due to alcohol and drug overdose, suicide, and liver disease.
According to the U.S. News and World Report, drug and alcohol use in men may be associated with an uptick in prescription drug use. This includes addiction, overdose, and suicidal thoughts related to prescription painkillers. Researchers note:
Addictions are hard to treat and pain is hard to control, so those currently in midlife may be a ‘lost generation’ whose future is less bright than those who preceded them.
Detractors of the report include Andrew Gelman of Slate. He contends that since research focused on baby boomers, it logically follows that there would be more deaths that seen in previous years. He re-ran the numbers, and subsequently found that deaths had actually remained stable.
And yet, analysis by the New York Times revealed that whites are still dying in higher numbers. According to Ross Douthat, the reason has to do with current socioeconomic issues society is facing. For example, liberals blame static wages, income inequality, and inadequate care for the marginalized and impoverished.
Conversely, conservatives point to a lack in family values and religion which decrease motivation and interest in education. Additionally, programs meant to help the poor actually contribute to dependence, helplessness, and depression.
Douthat mentions Rod Dreher, a conservative author who writes about a phenomenon called white “dispossession”. This consists of a general sense of broken promises, and a feeling that something to which you are entitled is being denied to you. He believes that a return to faith and family in economic policies is the answer.
Douthat believes that men need to feel like they matter again:
Maybe sustained growth, full employment and a welfare state that’s friendlier to work and family can help revive that nexus. Or maybe working-class white America needs to adapt culturally, in various ways, to this era of relative stagnation, and learn from the resilience of communities that are used to struggling in the shadow of elite neglect.
This article was originally published on Recovery Navigation.
Photo: Getty Images