A couple of new reports have found that there’s been a significant rise in deaths among white Americans, mostly related to heavy drug use.
These deaths are especially high among those 25 to 34 years old, which makes that generation the first “since the Vietnam War years of the mid-1960s to experience higher death rates in early adulthood than the generation that preceded it,” The New York Times reported.
To find this information, The New York Times looked at about 60 million death certificates from 1990 to 2014 provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These high amount of white deaths come “in sharp contrast” to the continued rise of black and Hispanic deaths in the United States.
The data show that death rates, especially for young whites, rise among the uneducated, with a 23 percent jump in deaths of people who didn’t complete high school, whereas there was just a 4 percent rise for those who had completed college or more, the Times reported.
The report also found that these deaths are mostly linked to drug use, both prescription and illegal. Death rates for white people ages 24 to 44 rose from 1999 to 2014 by about five times, and it tripled for those ages 35 to 44.
“That is startling,” Dr. Wilson Compton, the deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told the Times. “Those are tremendous increases.”
Experts said most of these drug deaths are either from overdoses or suicides. In fact, according to the Times’ data, white men have had more deaths from drug overdoses than blacks, Hispanics and white women.
“It is like an infection model, diffusing out and catching more and more people,” Jonathan Skinner, a Dartmouth economist, told the Times.
This new report comes just a few months after researchers Anne Case and Angus Deaton of Princeton University found that there’s similarly been an increase in death rates among white middle-aged men from 1999 to 2013, mostly driven by alcohol and drug overdose, suicide and chronic liver disease, U.S. News and World Report explained.
The drug and alcohol use is linked to a number of issues. Some men will overdose when taking pills for pain, whereas others may find them addicted to some of these substances. There’s also been some men who, when taking these pills, find themselves having suicidal thoughts, U.S. News reported.
“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,” the researchers wrote.
But that report had its detractors, too. Andrew Gelman of Slate was one of them after he found that deaths among middle-aged men weren’t necessarily on the rise because the research focused on people who were born during the baby boom. And since there was an abundance of people born at that time, it would make sense that there would be more deaths than previous years.
So he ran the numbers again, taking the average age of people 45 to 54 from 1999 to 2013 and comparing that to the amount of deaths. He found the number of deaths hadn’t increased, but in fact had remained stable.
“So, no, mortality among middle-aged white Americans has not been steadily rising. It went up from 1999 to 2005 and has been stable since then,” he wrote.
But the recent New York Times analysis shows that dying is still a trend for whites, even if it’s not as high as previous research has indicated. So why is this? What’s making drug overdoses so infectious?
There’s myriad answers, but most relate back to some of the main issues of our time — financial stability, education and people’s devotion to faith and family.
As Ross Douthat wrote for The New York Times, the reason for the rise in deaths always brings out specific answers from those on different ends of the political spectrum. Liberals tend to point to stagnant wages, income inequality and a lack of care for the poor as the reason, since many of these issues will cause people to turn to drugs, Douthat wrote.
Meanwhile, conservatives often feel these problems are rooted in the loss of family values and religion among Americans, as well as the “dependence and disability payments that only encourages drug abuse and suicidal thoughts,” Douthat wrote. Family and political commentator Brad Wilcox and other researchers highlighted some of these issues in a research paper back in 2015, which found that a lack of religion and family life not only decreases one’s interest in education, but also may lead them closer to drug use.
But the true solution to solving this drug overdose problem for white men may be somewhere in the middle. Douthat points to American Conservative’s Rod Dreher, who wrote about an idea called white “dispossession,” or, as Douthat puts it, “a sense of promises broken, a feeling that what you were supposed to have has been denied to you.”
Other than teaching men to “fail successfully,” as Dreher put it, fixing this heavy death problem may require an American overhaul in which economic policies put a focus on faith and family, while also trying to fix income inequality issues.
The key, Douthat notes, is to make white men 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,” he wrote. “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. Or maybe it will take a little bit of both, more money and new paths to resilience alike, to make some of the unhappiest white lives feel like they matter once again.”