Young white people have a problem that's only getting worse: death by drug overdose. According to a New York Times analysis of almost 60 million death certificates, young whites are dying off faster than they have since the AIDS epidemic, while young blacks and Hispanics are generally seeing death rates decline. The numbers are particularly scary among women and the less educated, highlighted by shocking rates of death by drug overdose—which spiked 500% for whites aged 25 to 34, and 300% among whites aged 35 to 44, between 1999 and 2014. "It is like an infection model, diffusing out and catching more and more people," says a Dartmouth economist who likens the drug-overdose rates to those of an infectious disease.
This jibes with a CDC finding that drug overdose was the top cause of accidental death in 2014, CNN reported last year. Yet death numbers for young Americans aren't that high: Roughly 29,000 of the country's 25 million whites aged 25 to 34 died in 2014, about a 24% rise from 2004. The number of deaths by overdose rose from 2,888 in 2004 to 7,558 in 2014. Why the increase? Researchers aren't sure, but they point to whites feeling locked out of society and the economy, and jobless women who struggle to raise children outside of a stable relationship. Blacks, meanwhile, are seeing their death rates fall as AIDS deaths decline and doctors apparently shy away from giving minority patients prescription painkillers that can be addictive. (More middle-aged white people are dying, too.)