A couple months ago I wrote about a controversial study which reported the rising mortality rates among middle aged whites - a trend which broke the model of ever-decreasing mortality rates across racial groups in the United States and all wealthy industrialized countries worldwide. I argued that, whether it was principally cause or effect, it was critical to understanding contemporary US politics. The leading driver of this rising mortality was drug overdose, chronic substance abuse (liver disease, etc.) and suicide. Subsequent critiques of the study appeared to show the trend was somewhat exaggerated in the original study and more concentrated among white women. Still, the overall findings held up.
Since then I've been reading more about the rising rates of drug overdoses themselves. The numbers are truly stunning. The number of people now dying from drug overdose is comparable to the number dying annually from AIDS during the peak of the AIDS epidemic in the mid-90s. Now, this isn't a perfect analog, certainly. Drug overdose goes back either centuries or millennia depending on how you want to define it. AIDS was a totally new disease in the US starting in the early 1980s. But it does provide a sense of scale.
50,000 American died of AIDS in the peak year of 1995. In 2014, just over 47,000 people of overdose.
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