1992-2006, mortality rates for women rose in 42.8% of U.S. counties. For men? 3.4% of counties.

White Women Mortality Rates Opioids

Think about this: for the most part, people are living longer — except, perhaps, African-American men in Mississippi — but yet, U.S. women aged 15 to 54 are dying at a very high rate. This Washington Post article, where I first came across this information, tends to pin a lot of the trend back on prescription painkillers (which are opioids), noting this:

Prescription painkillers, or opioids, have become increasingly easy to find over the past two decades. Prescriptions have increased tenfold since 1990, according to a Harvard Medical School report. Medical providers wrote 259 million prescriptions in 2012, “enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills,” the CDC estimates.

In 1999, 3.3 out of every 100K white women died from opioid complications (typically overdose); by 2011, that was 15.9 per 100K. It essentially quintupled, then, in 12 years. That’s not a good trend. 

There’s a way to look at this data and instantly go to a housewife-shaming place (I know a lot of people who would do that, sadly). White, home by yourself or home with kids, husband works because of our inability to budge on gender roles, so you start popping pills. It’s obviously far more nuanced than that.

Consider this:

“If death rates for a group are rising, it is highly likely that the health of that population is worsening, thus affecting a much larger group of people than those who die,” researchers wrote. “Moreover, the social context of health and survival is integrally related to the health outcomes of adult women, who are crucial to the social fabric of their families, communities and local economies.”

Concur with that statement.

More of the female deaths tend to be happening in the American Southwest, where perhaps more opioid prescriptions are written.

Interesting thing I didn’t know until researching this: opioids are actually broadly not available in much of the world, even though they are an inexpensive (pennies on the dollar) way to treat pain. So this is, basically, a problem that could only occur in America (or a handful of other places). Maybe I was once misguided in saying Abilify explains America; maybe it’s really opioids.



Ted Bauer