Rising death rates in young white adults due to overdoses

A New York Times analysis of CDC data released this week showed that, in contrast to falling death rates among black and Hispanic adults,

drug overdoses are driving up the death rate of young white adults in the United States to levels not seen since the end of the AIDS epidemic more than two decades ago

The analysis shows that the rise in white mortality extends well beyond the 45- to 54-year-old age group reported in November by Princeton economists Angus Deaton, who won the 2015 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science, and Anne Case. They reported that death rates among middle-aged white Americans are rising, unlike those in every other age, race and ethnic group–a rise driven by an epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse: alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids.

The New York Times analysis’s drug overdose numbers show an unrelenting rise in substance abuse related deaths. From 1999 to 2014, the overdose rate for whites ages 25 to 34 rose by a factor of five and the rate for 35- to 44-year-old whites tripled. The numbers cover both illegal and prescription drugs.Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 12.06.35 PM

The Times analysis shows that death rate among young whites rose for every age group over the five years before 2014.  Educational attainment is also a risk factor for overdose deaths: it rose faster by any measure for the less educated, by 23 percent for those without a high school education, compared with only 4 percent for those with a college degree or more.

The opioid epidemic is also varied geographically across the country. The New York Times provides an interactive map at this site showing the spread of the opioid overdose death epidemic across the country from 2003 through 2014.Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 12.01.37 PM.png
For more on this topic and a local, Colorado-based approach to addressing it, please see my earlier blog post here.


Published by Marion Sills

I am a Professor of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado. I work as a physician in the emergency departments of the Children's Hospital of Colorado and as a health services researcher at the University's Adult and Child Consortium for Health Outcomes (ACCORDS).

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