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Middle-aged whites in the U.S. dying at unprecedented rate from drugs, alcohol and suicide
“Half a million people are dead who should not be dead,” says 2015 Nobel laureate Angus Deaton. “About 40 times the Ebola stats. You’re getting up there with HIV-AIDS.”
This is just the kind of bad news we try to avoid, because it can be downright depressing. But in this case, it needs to be discussed so we can hopefully save some lives.
An article in The Washington Post says that Angus Deaton, the 2015 Nobel laureate in economics, has discovered that a large segment of white middle-aged Americans “has suffered a startling rise in its death rate since 1999, according to a review of statistics published Monday that shows a sharp reversal in decades of progress toward longer lives.”
Deaton co-authored the paper with his wife, Anne Case. They published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Both are economics professors at Princeton University.
From 1999 to 2013, the mortality rate for white men and women ages 45-54 with less than a college education has soared. Deaton and Case concluded, from studying all the statistics and associated information, that most deaths were caused by problems with legal and illegal drugs, alcohol and suicide. “Drugs and alcohol, and suicide . . . are clearly the proximate cause,” Deaton said.
In the years leading up to 1999, death rates for that group had been steadily dropping. But in 1999 it took a sudden turn for the worse. Such an increase in the mortality rate for any large demographic group in an advanced nation is virtually unheard of in recent decades, with the exception of Russian men after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
So what’s causing the substance abuse?
What drove this segment of the population to drugs, alcohol and suicide is another story. But other experts are suggesting a combination of economic losses among that population and increasing instances of health problems – poor diet, lack of exercise, and all the rest – leading to an overall sense of hopelessness.
The spike in the death rate was accompanied by an increase in the rate of illness – a surge in overdoses from opioid medication and heroin, liver disease and other problems that stem from alcohol abuse, and suicides, the authors wrote.
“There’s this widening between people at the top and the people who have a ho-hum education and they’re not tooled up to compete in a technological economy,” Deaton said. “Not only are these people struggling economically, but they’re experiencing this health catastrophe too, so they’re being hammered twice.”
Jonathan Skinner, a professor of economics at Dartmouth College, agrees. “An increasingly pessimistic view of their financial future combined with the increased availability of opioid drugs has created this kind of perfect storm of adverse outcomes,” Skinner told the Post.
Prestigious medical journals rejected the study
Before the study was published in the PNAS, the authors tried to get it published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), Deaton said. Both publications refused to consider the paper for publication.
The JAMA editors were so fast to refuse it, one had to wonder if they even read it.
“We got it back almost instantaneously. It was almost like the e-mail had bounced. We got it back within hours,” Deaton said.
The NEJM editors commented that the study doesn’t explain why the historically anomalous surge in mortality occurred. In fact, the point of the study wasn’t to say why, it was to point out that half a million Americans are dead who simply shouldn’t be dead. Period.
Deaton says the NEJM response was like calling the fire department to report that your house is on fire. “And they say, ‘Well, what caused the fire?’ and you say, ‘I don’t know,’ and they say, ‘Well, we can’t send the fire brigade until you tell us what caused the fire.’ ”
Meanwhile here at Novus, we’re on the front lines of treatment offering the most advanced medical detox protocols available. If you or someone you care about needs to take that first step in recovery, don’t hesitate to call us. We’re here to help.
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