Opioids as the White Death
All of us necessarily focus on different areas, and until quite recently Id never paid much attention to public health issues, naively assuming that these were in the hands of reasonably competent and reasonably honest government servants, monitored by journalists and academics of similar reliability.
For many of us, myself included, an important crack in that assumption came in 2015, when the pages of the New York Times and our other major newspapers were filled with reports of a shocking new study by Anne Case and Angus Deaton, a married pair of eminent economists, with Deatons career having been crowned a few weeks earlier by winning the Nobel Prize in his discipline.
Their remarkable finding was that during the previous 15 years, the health and survival rates of middle-aged white Americans had undergone a precipitous decline, completely breaking with the pattern of non-white American groups or with whites living in other developed nations. Moreover, this sharp fall in physical well-being represented a radical departure from the trends of the previous half-century, being almost unprecedented in modern Western history.
Although their short paper filled merely a half-dozen pages in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it was quickly endorsed by a host of prominent public health experts and other scholars, who emphasized the dramatic nature of the discovery. A couple of Dartmouth professors told the Times It is difficult to find modern settings with survival losses of this magnitude, while an expert in mortality trends exclaimed Wow. Their striking results were illustrated by numerous simple graphs based upon easily obtained government statistics.
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