Opioids Are Primary Driver of Deaths for Young Non-Hispanic White Males

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Christopher J. Ruhm, PhD Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA

Dr. Ruhm

Christopher J. Ruhm, PhD
Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: I have been interested for some time in understanding the extent to which the rise in drug fatalities can explaining the rising mortality rates of midlife whites that have been experienced since the turn of the century. The primary findings are as follows:

  1. The rise in drug mortality is sufficiently large to explain the entire growth in mortality rates and years of potential life lost experienced by 22-56 year old non-Hispanic whites (NHW) from 1999-2015. This does not imply that there are not other sources of concern related to this decline in life expectancy but indicate a key role of drug deaths.
  2. The growth in drug deaths is particularly pronounced for males in their 20s and 30s, in contrast to some earlier research focusing on NHW in their 40s and 50s.
  3. Deaths involving illicit opioids are the primary driver for young NHW males, with more equal contributions of illicit and prescription opioids for some what older NHWs. These results also indicate that prior studies focusing on persons in their 40s and 50s may provide a misleading picture of the pattern of deaths for the group experiencing the greatest increases.

MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: The fatal drug epidemic is a major public health concern with illicit opioids have emerged as the most important source of deaths (although some of this certainly has antecedents in rising use and abuse of prescription opioids during the first decade of this century).

A multi-faceted aggressive effort needs to be made to address the epidemic, with particularly attention for relative young persons who are at risk of abusing illicit opioids such as heroin and fentanyl.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We need to better understand which policies can be used to effectively address the fatal drug epidemic including the roles of primary prevention and a variety of risk mitigation strategies, such as widening the availability of fentanyl, as well as those that increase the use of effective treatment strategies.

No disclosures.

MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.


Christopher J. Ruhm. Drug Mortality and Lost Life Years Among U.S. Midlife Adults, 1999–2015. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2018.03.014

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on May 22, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD