Drug overdoses are driving up the death rate of young white U.S. adults to levels not seen since the end of the AIDS epidemic more than two decades ago, reports the New York Times. The trend stands in sharp contrast to falling death rates for young blacks. The rising death rates for young whites ages 25 to 34 make them the first generation since the Vietnam War years of the mid-1960s to experience higher death rates in early adulthood than the generation preceding it. The Times analyzed nearly 60 million death certificates collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1990 to 2014. It found death rates for non-Hispanic whites either rising or flattening for all the adult age groups under 65 even as medical advances reduce deaths from traditional killers like heart disease.
While the death rate among young whites rose for every age group in the five years before 2014, it rose faster 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. In 2014, the overdose death rate for whites ages 25 to 34 was five times its level in 1999, and the rate for 35- to 44-year-old whites tripled during that period. The numbers cover both illegal and prescription drugs. “That is startling,” said Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Those are tremendous increases.” Rising rates of overdose deaths and suicide appear to have erased the benefits from advances in medical treatment for most age groups of whites. Death rates for drug overdoses and suicides “are running counter to those of chronic diseases,” like heart disease, said Ian Rockett, an epidemiologist at West Virginia University.