US death rate increases for first time in a decade due to drugs, alcohol and suicide

A new study says the spike in mortality rates looks similar to that during ‘the height of the AIDS epidemic’


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The Independent US

Caucasian Americans are dying younger for the first time in 10 years due to factors like suicide and addiction to opioids, according to a new study.

The number of white, non-Hispanic Americans dying aged between 45 and 54 years old has jumped significantly. 

If the mortality rate was still the same as between 1979 and 1998, half a million deaths between 1999 to 2013 could have been avoided, according to research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Drug and alcohol poisoning, suicide, chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis are to blame, especially among the less educated, it found.

Drug poisoning has already become a more common cause of death than lung cancer, and now suicide is poised to become more common, too.

In comparison, other racial groups, including middlle-aged black non-Hispanics and Hispanics, have seen their mortality rates fall at midlife.

The decline in caucasian Americans’ mortality bears resemblance to what happened during peak of the AIDS epidemic, which killed 650,000 people between 1981 and 2015.

Public awareness of AIDS increased, and along with behavioral change and drug therapy, the disease was brought under control, but PNAS found that this generation taking drugs could “age into Medicare” in worse health than the current elderly.

“This is not automatic; if the epidemic is brought under control, its survivors may have a healthy old age,” the study read.

"However, addictions are hard to treat and pain is hard to control, so those currently in midlife may be a “lost generation” whose future is less bright than those who preceded them.”

A rapid increase of prescription drugs from the mid-1990s has been cited as an underlying reason for increased suicides, alcohol abuse and economic insecurity.

“[…] many of the baby-boom generation are the first to find, in midlife, that they will not be better off than were their parents,” it read.