Rising Death Rate Among 45 to 54-Year-Old White Males

HMajid Ali, M.D.

Suicide, Drug Overdosage, and Alcoholism Take Their Toll


Death By Despair

In a companion article in my Pre-East Series, I offer a quote from Bertrand Russel, the British philosopher and Nobel laureate, I quote his words “firm foundation of unyielding despair.”  This was his prescription for finding the “habitation of soul.” The graph lines in the figure below (taken from The New York Times of November 3, 2015) tell a different story.

Here’s a big puzzle growing out of that startling new research showing that the death rate among white Americans age 45-54, especially the less-educated, has been rising since 1999. This even though the death rate among all our other age and ethnic groups has been falling.

Death rate for U.S. non-Hispanic whites (USW, solid red line), U.S. Hispanics and six comparison countries, aged 45-54. Credit: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Death rate for U.S. non-Hispanic whites (USW, solid red line), U.S. Hispanics and six comparison countries, aged 45-54. Credit: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The causes of the excess deaths in nearly half a million white women and men–comparable in number to total US deaths from AIDS–are mostly drugs, alcohol, and suicide. The group is also experiencing more mental health problems, poorer health and physical fitness, and more pain than the other groups. The headline on Olga Khazan’s post at The Atlantic puts it this way: “Middle-Aged White Americans Are Dying of Despair.”

The big puzzle is this: Why does it seem to be happening only in the US?

The paper’s authors, Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, proposed a couple of possibilities. First, drugs: easy availability in the US of prescription opioids like Oxycontin, plus relatively easy access to heroin, beginning in the 1990s.

Top Red Line: White Americans

buse.

 Top Line: Suicide
Middle Line : Chronic Liver diseases
Lower line: Drug abuse and alcohol
Source: The New York times of November 3, 2015

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