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Prescription Drug Overdoses May Contribute to Drop in Life Expectancy in Some Whites

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An increase in prescription drug overdoses among young whites, and higher rates of smoking among less educated white women, may be contributing to the decline in life expectancy for white Americans with lower levels of education.

The findings come from a report published in Health Affairs, which concludes that the life expectancy has fallen by four years since 1990 for the least-educated whites in the United States.

The study examined data from Americans without a high school diploma, The New York Times reports. In addition to prescription drug abuse and smoking, other possible reasons for the lifespan decrease include obesity, and an increase in the number of the least educated Americans without health insurance.

The article notes that prescription drug overdoses have greatly increased since 1990, and have disproportionately affected whites, especially women. Smoking rates among both white and black women without a high school diploma have increased.

White women without a high school diploma lost five years of life on average between 1990 and 2008. By that year, the life expectancy for black women without a high school diploma had exceeded that of white women who had the same level of education.

The study found white men without a high school diploma lost three years of life. In contrast, the life expectancy for both blacks and Hispanics with the same level of education increased. Overall, blacks do not live as long as whites; Hispanics live longer than both whites and blacks.

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