The Rise In White Drug Abuse Deaths Is Long-Term And Gradual

There has been a lot of chatter about a recent Case and Deaton paper and follow-on media interviews which ascribe the increase in white working class mortality to ‘diseases of despair.’ Interesting how, when the white working class gets hammered, diseases are cited, but when, in the late 1970s and 1980s, the black working class experiences similar forces, the explanation is intrinsic to a dysfunctional ‘urban’ culture. The former are failed victims, the latter are morally-failing perpetrators. Just want to lay down that marker for future reference.

Anyway, what this post is about is this very interesting–in a horrifying way–CDC figure* showing the increase in drug-overdose deaths from 1999 to 2015 (pdf):


What’s remarkable is how constant this is. Media reports to the contrary, there really isn’t a spike (a simple linear regression yields an R-squared of 0.98, with about 1,800 additional deaths per year). The slight spike at the end is probably due to the shift to new drugs–and drug sources (there is always an ‘adjustment period’ as users learn–and don’t learn–which stuff can kill you).

My point is not to downplay the severity of the problem, but this isn’t a crisis in that it suddenly arose. The increase in white drug-overdoses has been fairly steady for at least seventeen years.

It was only a ‘crisis’ in that it was ignored for so long.

Related: To the extent this relates to the whole argument about Case and Deaton, working-class whites, etc., I think this is correct:

There are many winners and losers over the last decade within white middle-aged Americans, or among any other particular group. There are also many relevant ways to slice up these trends, and it’s not clear to us that it’s appropriate to framing these trends as a crisis among middle-aged whites

*The CDC publishes very interesting data, much of which is politically inconvenient (and not well-hyped to boot). Oddly, it is often ignored.

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3 Responses to The Rise In White Drug Abuse Deaths Is Long-Term And Gradual

  1. sglover says:

    Looks like our “leadership” is approaching the drug problem from a rather **imaginative** angle. This is actually NOT from The Onion, although it sure sounds like it belongs there. Here is what Republican dinosaur Grassley and Dem relic Diane Feinstein are spending their time on: “Feinstein, Grassley Introduce Bill to Combat Candy and Fruit Flavored Drugs Marketed to Children”

    Apparently the latest front in the War on (Some) Drugs is grade school. Turns out that third graders are so flush with cash that drug dealers are enticing them with grape-flavored weed, cherry-flavored meth, tropical fruit heroin blast. No idea how that could possibly be in **this** reality, but I guess in the pockmarked brains of these two such things actually happen.

    Just think — people like this are allowed to write laws!!!!!

  2. Prof.Pedant says:

    “The former are failed victims, the latter are morally-failing perpetrators.”

    The subtext in how social pathologies are characterized differently depending on which group is being discussed is that melanin is truly an amazing substance. No other biological substance is able to turn a victim of societal neglect into a perpetrator of societal harm. [Well, maybe estrogen, but (of course) that’s different.]

  3. jrkrideau says:

    People who do not read Andrew Gelman’s blog may find this post and the linked plots file rather interesting. The between regions and between states variances are sometime shocking.

    It would be fascinating to see those CDC curves broken down in the same way.

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