Whites Running out of Hope: 21,350 ‘Deaths of Despair’ in California

Barbara Anderson, Fresno Bee, December 14, 2017

Suicides, alcohol poisoning – and drug overdoses fueled in part by the opioid crisis – are the leading causes of rising death rates among white people in California, according to a new study that found the trend is widespread in rural areas of the state.

Generally, death rates for people of color remain higher than for whites, but the study released by The California Endowment said death rates have been decreasing among blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Pacific Islanders in California and are increasing for whites.

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“The sad part of this report is these deaths are all preventable. These are not deaths from cancer – these are deaths from drug abuse, suicide,” said Sarah Reyes, The California Endowment’s director of communications for Healthy Communities.

The deaths are a result of “when people feel a sense of loss and feel like they don’t belong,” Reyes said. “They feel like they don’t matter. At the base of this report are people who don’t have access to services and don’t see opportunity for them to move forward, for themselves and their families. That hole of despair gets deeper and deeper.”

According to the new study:

▪ Death rates from drug overdoses doubled between 1995 and 2014 among young and middle-aged whites in California.

▪ The death rate from alcohol poisoning or binge drinking more than quadrupled among younger whites and increased twelvefold among those ages 40-64.

▪ The rate of suicides among middle-aged whites increased by 37 percent after 2000.

The preliminary report, released last year, said the death rate for whites in Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties was almost 40 percent higher than the overall white death rate in California from 2010-14. Accidental drug poisonings for middle-aged adults since the 1990s had risen 212.3 percent in Fresno County and 163.7 percent in Kern County. County. Drug overdoses for white men ages 25 to 34 in Kern County had increased 248 percent. Suicides in the region had increased 121 percent, and alcohol poisoning had increased fifteenfold.

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