Opioid ‘Deaths of Despair’ Don’t Explain Mortality Gap

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Arline T. Geronimus Sc.D Professor, Health Behavior and Health Education School of Public Health Research Professor Population Studies Center Institute for Social Research University of Michigan Member, National Academy of Medicine

Dr. Geronimus

Arline T. Geronimus Sc.D
Professor, Health Behavior and Health Education
School of Public Health
Research Professor
Population Studies Center
Institute for Social Research
University of Michigan
Member, National Academy of Medicine 

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

Response: The gap in life expectancy between less and more educated Americans grew over the last 30 years, a deeply troubling fact. We are alone among western nations in these trends. We aimed to determine what causes of death account for this growing educational gap in life expectancy and whether the gap has continued to grow in the most recent years.

Disturbingly, we found the educational gap in life expectancy has continued to grow.

Why? A common theory is that this growing inequality is due to the opioid epidemic. Some even speculate that the less educated are dying from a composite of what they call “deaths of despair” – opioid and other drug overdose, suicide and alcoholic liver disease – with the theory being that as less educated and working class Americans have faced job loss and stagnating wages, they experience hopelessness and despair and turn to drugs, alcohol, or even suicide to ease or end their pain and feelings of hopelessness.

However, while opioid, suicide and alcoholic liver disease deaths have increased among white youth and young adults and is cause for concern, this does not imply that these deaths should be grouped together as “deaths of despair” (DOD) or that they explain the growing educational gaps in life expectancy across all groups – men, women, whites, blacks, or older as well as younger adults.

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