If you’re under 50 in America, the biggest threat to your life is now drugs.

This is a detail collected in a staggering new data set compiled by the New York Times. Preliminary estimates suggest that the total number of drug overdose deaths in the US were over 59,000 in 2016, a 19 percent increase over the previous year. The Times’ Josh Katz reports that it’s only worsening into 2017.

The Times culled the data from contacting hundreds of state health departments and coroner’s offices. The Center for Disease Control will release their official stats in December.

The biggest increases come on the East Coast, in states like Maine, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Florida.

The surge in drug-related deaths is partly due to the spread of Fentanyl, the synthetic opioid 50 times stronger than heroin. It killed Prince and is widely available via prescription and the black market.

The growth in drug deaths reflects what happens to people psychologically when work opportunities and the sense of identity and purpose that comes with them leave town.

Opioids are the ultimate escape drugs: “Boredom and a sense of uselessness and inadequacy — these are human failings that lead you to just want to withdraw,” University of West Virginia drug addiction researcher Judith Feinberg said in a recent interview. “On heroin, you curl up in a corner and blank out the world. It’s an extremely seductive drug for dead-end towns, because it makes the world’s problems go away.”

There’s a reason they’re called deaths of despair.

“The terrorist threat families in America see is not in the streets of Aleppo,” Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts said at a recent summit on drug abuse. “It’s fentanyl coming down your street.”

Originally published at medium.com


  • DRAKE BAER is a deputy editor at Business Insider, where he leads a team of 20+ journalists in covering the shifting nature of organizations, wealth, and demographics in the United States. He has been a senior writer at New York Magazine, a contributing writer at Fast Company, and the director of content for a human resources consultancy. A speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival and other conferences, he circumnavigated the globe before turning 25. Perception is his second book.