LIFE expectancy in America declined for the second year running in 2016 according to data recently released by the Centers for Disease control and Prevention (CDC). Unsurprisingly, one major cause was the opioid epidemic. The CDC reported that deaths from drug overdoses rose from 16,848 in 1999 to 63,632 in 2016. The increase was particularly steep among those aged 55 to 64, for whom death rates increased six-fold over that period. Mortality from opioids designed for pain relief spiked from about one-fifth to over one half of total drug deaths.

This grim epidemic has often been blamed on economic conditions; Anne Case and Angus Deaton, economists, have described “deaths of despair” that “come with prolonged economic distress.” But a new paper by Christopher Ruhm at the University of Virginia suggests that economic conditions can only help explain a small fraction of the increase in drug mortality rates. This is potentially good news that could offer hope in the fight against drug deaths. Continue reading.