The rising death rate of young white adults in the United States is being driven by drug overdoses, The New York Times reports.
In contrast, the death rates for young black Americans is falling, according to an analysis by the newspaper. This is the first generation of young white adults since the Vietnam War years of the mid-1960s to have higher deaths rates in early adulthood than the generation before it, the article notes.
The findings come from an analysis of almost 60 million death certificates collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 1990 and 2014.
Death rates for non-Hispanic whites rose or flattened for all adult age groups under 65, especially in women. During that period, medical advances greatly decreased deaths from traditional causes such as heart disease. Among blacks and most Hispanic groups, death rates continued to fall during those years.
The overdose death rate for whites ages 25 to 34 in 2014 was five times its level in 1999. Among whites ages 35 to 44, the overdose rate tripled during those years. The analysis included deaths from illegal and prescription drugs.
While the reasons for the increase in drug overdoses among young white adults is not known, researchers think it is because there are a large number who are left out of the economy and society, while having easy access to cheap heroin and prescription opioid painkillers.
“There are large numbers of people who never get established in the economy, who live outside family relationships and are on the edge of poverty,” said Mark D. Hayward, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Many end up using prescription painkillers, he noted. “Poverty and stress, for example, are risk factors for misuse of prescription narcotics,” he said.