Rural Drug Use Contributes to Rise in Early Deaths for White & Native Americans

Jan 30, 2017 at 1:30 p.m. ET
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Increasing numbers of white and Native Americans are dying prematurely, a new study reports, with drug overdose and suicide being primary causes of the jump.

According to the study published last week in The Lancet, mortality for white, Native American and Alaskan Native people ages 25 to 30 went from 2 percent in 1999 to 5 percent in 2014.

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Meredith Shiels, an investigator with the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics and lead author of the study said that she was most surprised by the extent of the increase.

"The last time we saw increases like this was during the AIDS epidemic in the '80s and '90s," Shiels added.

Accidental deaths, which include drug overdoses, increased across all 50 states for women and in 48 states for men, with West Virginia having the highest rate of premature death.

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Dave Thomas, a program official in the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Division of Epidemiology Services and Prevention Research and a co-author of the study pointed to prescription and opioid overdoses as the main reason behind the increase in untimely deaths, noting that opioid abuse predominantly affects white people in rural areas.

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The good news is that other minority groups — including black, Asian and Hispanic people — have seen a decrease in deaths among 25- to 64-year-olds thanks to advancements in the treatment and detection of cancer, HIV and heart disease. The decline was especially pronounced among black people who saw a decrease of premature deaths of up to 3.9 percent in certain age groups.

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