Some of the consequences of white America’s opiate epidemic—a topic that has been widely explored by media outlets and social scientists—are still coming to light. Opioid use and addiction have exploded in predominantly white communities around the country, and 90 percent  of new heroin users over the last decade are white. The vast majority of those users—75 percent—first used prescription painkillers, which are prescribed to African-Americans and Hispanics with far less frequency, thanks to racial biases  in medicine. Among the overwhelmingly white majority of new heroin users, the number of women doubled. That fact has specific implications for white women, particularly those of the rural working class, that come down to life and death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the single year between 2013 and 2014, the life expectancy of white American women fell approximately  one month, from 81.2 to 81.1 years. That decline is better understood not merely as a fraction of a year but as a contributor to almost a decade and a half of truncating white American female lives. A 2015 Urban Institute study  found death rates among white women climbed 12 percent between 1999 and 2013; that period saw white American female deaths increase from 126 to 140 out of 100,000. The rise in mortality holds true for white women across a spectrum of ages, with Urban Institute researchers noting  that premature death is “especially pronounced among white women of reproductive age.” Though life expectancies for white men have also decreased slightly, no other group’s mortality rose by as great a measure as white women.
White women still have lower death rates than a number of their cohorts. The expected lifespan of white men, as the New York Times  points out, fell slightly but stands at 75.6 years—a full 5.5 years less than white women—just as it did in 2013. Despite their rising mortality rates, white women, on average, still outlive both African-American men and women, whose death rates are far higher. That said, the increase in white American female premature deaths has been statistically significant enough to skew interpretations of white mortality overall. Recall the much cited 2015 study  by Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton and Anne Case which indicated rising mortality for middle-aged, working-class whites. A closer look at the numbers by numerous other researchers shows that white female deaths, in particular, have dragged down the mean. And those death counts represent a sharp change in direction for a group whose life expectancies have been on the rise for decades.