Drug Abuse and Education

Health Care February 2024 PREMIUM

According to a recent Rand study, there is a direct correlation between drug abuse and educational achievement. The less education one acquires, the more dismal the consequences. It is yet another story to be shared among Hispanics. 

According to a recent RAND study, deaths among Americans without a college education have increased sharply over the past three years due to drug abuse. 

Worse yet, deaths nearly doubled for those who never finished high school. Many scholars see a clear correlation between drug overdose deaths and existing barriers to quality education. For years, it has been widely acknowledged that education “is a social determinant of health.”

Although Hispanics were not mentioned in the study, the fact that many Hispanics never finish high school (up to 50 percent in some neighborhoods) is reason to worry. 

Lower educational achievement has been a socioeconomic factor historically associated with drug use and overdose deaths.

It’s getting worse. Given the emergence of fentanyl, a scourge is upon us. This deadly problem exists not just in our large cities but in isolated villages throughout the nation.  

“The analysis shows that the opioid crisis increasingly has become a crisis involving Americans without any college education,” said David Powell, the study’s author. “The study suggests large and growing education disparities within all racial and ethnic groups—disparities that have accelerated since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

There have been other research studies, but most of them focused on the demographics, documenting overdose death rates by sex, ethnicity, and age. Less attention has focused on educational attainment - especially during the COVID pandemic -despite its central importance in broader discussions of “deaths of despair.”

The RAND study, which focused on drug overdose deaths, concluded that lower education was directly correlated to higher drug use and death.

Powell studied the association between educational attainment and the rise in overdose deaths from 2000 to 2021. During that period, the analysis identified 912,057 overdose deaths for those ages 25 and higher. Nearly 70 percent never attended college; the remainder had some college experience.

Overdose death rates increased from 2000 to 2021 for both categories, but the no-college cohort experienced faster growth nearly every year.

For people with no college education, the overdose death rate increased from 12 deaths per 100,000 individuals in 2000 to 82 deaths per 100,000 in 2021. 

Among those with some college education, the 2000 rate was 4.6 deaths per 100,000 individuals, growing to 18.6 deaths per 100,000 in 2021.The study also collected overdose death data from 2018–2021 for people who never completed high school. During that short period, overdose deaths among this group increased by 35 deaths per 100,000 people or 83 percent. This compared to increases of 32 deaths per 100,000 for people with high school diplomas, 10 deaths per 100,000 for those with some college, and 2 deaths per 100,000 for those who completed a bachelor's degree.

Racial Breakdown 

Once again, Hispanics are not mentioned in the study. Other groups are. The American Indian and Alaskan Native population showed substantially larger overdose rates than the rest of the population for every educational group, implying that race and ethnicity are independently associated with overdose death rate growth.

Compared to Caucasians, Black individuals experienced higher overdose death rates among people with high school diplomas. 

For those without a high school diploma, Caucasians showed higher overdose death rates, though black individuals experienced faster growth since 2018.

Crucial factors

The Powell report highlights differences among populations disproportionately affected by overdose deaths. It recommends effective and socially inclusive prevention and intervention strategies. It suggests providing additional resources, such as expanded access to treatment and subsidized naloxone, to economically disadvantaged individuals. It also highlights the potential gains of broader social and economic policies in addressing the opioid crisis.

“Understanding who is most affected by overdose deaths provides critical information about how resources, such as access to treatment and preventive medicine like naloxone, should be more effectively allocated,” Powell concluded.

Bottom Line

We have long known that there is a direct correlation between the level of education acquired and drug abuse. 

In short, those who do not finish high school use far more drugs than college graduates. This invariably leads to a dismal life: usually, one of crime in order to buy more drugs, impaired health and early death. Many have valiantly tried to alleviate the problem, but more has to be done. 

I would suggest that Americans should be made aware of the correlation between education and drug abuse. Policy makers should address it forthwith, as they did with cigarette smoking. Luckily, we have a record of diminishing cigarette usage in this country. A few decades ago, virtually all public schools conducted programs warning students about the dangers of smoking. It was quite effective. Cigarette smoking went down among teenagers and surprisingly, among parents as well, since children, of their own accord, nagged their parents when they saw them smoking.  

The broader issue is that Fentanyl is a new contagion. 

This drug is a powerful synthetic opioid. Prescription fentanyl is safe when taken as prescribed by a doctor to treat severe pain. However, illicitly manufactured fentanyl, mainly from China, has become a national menace. It presently pours in from our porous southern border. It is frequently disguised with other pills and even candy, and is widely distributed through illegal drug markets across the country. 

Just a few grains can be deadly. We have all read of single captured shipments that contained enough pills to kill the entire U.S. population. Just a single illegal shipment. One hundred and fifty people overdose and die every day in this country. 

Thus, it is imperative that nations put pressure on China to stop the production and distribution of Fentanyl, and that Mexico and the U.S. join forces to stop the cartels that control its illicit trade to our country.

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