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AN EPIDEMIC OF OVERDOSES

The United States is in the midst of an addiction and overdose epidemic. In 2014, a record 47,055 Americans died of drug overdoses — close to 130 people every day. This number reflects a one-year increase of 6.5% in overdose deaths; since 2000, deaths have increased by a full 137%. According to Robert Anderson, the Center for Disease Control’s chief of mortality statistics, this trend is now on par to that of the HIV epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s — the peak of its destructiveness.

Fatal overdoses have risen to such an extent that mortality rates as a whole have been affected. Medical and technological advances in the United States mean that, with a few notable exceptions, mortality rates should and do decline across demographic lines. This is a trend that has held consistently since the beginning of the 20th century. However, in white adults, especially those between the ages of 25 and 34, the enormous increase in overdose deaths has inflated the mortality rate. In other words, instead of living longer — as they have, year by year, since 1900 — white Americans, overall, are now dying younger and in greater numbers.

Anne Case, a Princeton economist, observes that, as mortality rates are an excellent measurement of quality of life, “there’s a real rumbling that bad things are coming down the pike.” This frightening spike in deaths spells trouble not only for drug users, but for the country as a whole.

Submitted by Lloyd Fitzsimmons

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