PUBLISHED: 12:46 EST, 1 July 2012 | UPDATED: 15:52 EST, 1 July 2012
Prescription pill abuse by middle-aged white men has contributed to closing the gap between the life expectancies of black and white Americans.
The gap has long been associated with social inequality, like access to healthcare and quality of life, but Canadian researcher Dr Sam Harper said that increased prescription drug abuse among whites had a major role in the new statistics.
The decline in mortality rates among blacks for heart disease, homicide and HIV has also led to closing the chasm, according to Dr Harper’s new report.
Drug: The gap has long been associated with social inequality, like access to healthcare and quality of life, but Dr Sam Harper says that increased prescription drug abuse among whites has contributed to the new statistics
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, stated that the difference between white and black American lifespans has shrunk significantly.
Dr Harper studied national data that showed not only an increase in the length of Americans’ lives but also a drop in the disparity between races.
The epidemiologist from McGill University in Montreal analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control, U.S. National Vital Statistics System, and various other centers.
Between 2003 and 2008, life expectancy at birth increased from 75.3 to 76.2 years among non-Hispanic, white men and from 68.8 to 70.8 years among non-Hispanic black men.
For women, the changes were from 80.3 to 81.2 years (non-Hispanic whites) and 75.7 to 77.5 years (non-Hispanic blacks), according to the study.
Trend: Between 2003 and 2008, life expectancy at birth increased from 75.3 to 76.2 years among non-Hispanic white men and from 68.8 to 70.8 years among non-Hispanic black men
Pattern: For women, the changes were from 80.3 to 81.2 years (non-Hispanic whites) and 75.7 to 77.5 years (non-Hispanic blacks), according to the study
These changes reduced the racial gap from 6.5 to 5.4 years among men and from 4.6 to 3.7 years among women.
‘Between 2003 and 2008, the gap in life expectancy between non-Hispanic blacks and whites declined by approximately 1 year for both sexes,’ Dr Harper said in the report.
‘Heart disease, diabetes, homicide, HIV and infant mortality remain the chief causes of the black-white gap.’
Killers: Heart disease, diabetes, homicide, HIV, and infant mortality remain the chief causes of the black-white gap
However, Dr Harper said, one of the major causes of the decrease in the gap was an increase in poisoning – caused by prescription pill abuse in whites.
Pill abuse has eclipsed motor vehicle crashes as a cause of accidental death and ‘has affected middle-aged white men more than any other group’.
He added: ‘The black-white life expectancy gap is still large, and declines since 2003 due to HIV and heart disease are a positive development. But rapid increases in accidental death among whites also have contributed to this change.’
During the surveyed time period, fatal poisonings were the leading increase among whites – by 58 percent for men and 74 percent for women between ages 20 and 54.
Dr Harper added that 80 to 90 percent of the unintentional poisoning deaths appear to be drug-related, with opiates being the primary killer.