White People Offing Themselves Has Silver Lining for Race Relations

It's news that should be refreshingly optimistic: a study has found that the life expectancy gap between races has finally been whittled down to its lowest point in history. While the chasm has slowly been decreasing over the last two decades, the years between 2003 - 2008 proved especially fruitful in leveling the gap. Incidentally, as the study points out, that's right around the time everyone started giving up on life.

Both black men and women experienced about a year's gain in life expectancy on their white counterparts: from 6.4 to 5.4 years difference between men, and from 5 to 3.7 for women. While some of the gains come from making headway with the good stuff like, "faster declines in mortality rates among blacks for things like heart disease, homicide and H.I.V. infection," the dark horse leveling the playing field is exceptionally macabre:

In the five-year period beginning in 2003, the death rates for "unintentional poisonings" rose by 15 to 20 percent for black men and women. But for white men and women, the rates skyrocketed by 60 to 75 percent and were particularly dramatic among younger people, ages 20 to 54.

While the stats show that to some degree all of us are throwing in the ambition-and-life-towel a little early these days, white men and women appear to be particularly susceptible to feeling sorry for themselves and numbing the pain.

Up to 90 percent of those poisoning deaths were drug-related, said Sam Harper, an author of the study and assistant professor in the department of epidemiology, biostatistics and occupational health at McGill University in Montreal. He noted that estimating the fraction that involved recreational drug use is difficult but that painkiller and opiate abuse - a growing problem - may have played a role.

Not everyone who is suffering from addiction and stuffing their face with prescription opiates and barbiturates has officially given up on life, but this trend is still pretty disconcerting. Noticeable drops in life expectancy from drug use just seems a little blasé on the part of the American people, especially at a time when our national happiness levels and our levels of government trust aren't getting any higher. If we're going to get ourselves out of this mess, we're probably going to need to collectively sober up.

Or at the very least, use in moderation, white people.

[via NYT Well Blog; image via Shutterstock]