Drug overdoses by young white adults have elevated the death rate for that age group to a level last seen during the AIDS epidemic, the New York Times reported Jan. 16. This enterprising investigation rings true here in the Lower Columbia region.

“The rising death rates for those young white adults, ages 25 to 34, make them the first generation since the Vietnam War years of the mid-1960s to experience higher death rates in early adulthood than the generation that preceded it,” the Times said.

Among the horrifying findings:

• “In 2014, the overdose death rate for whites ages 25 to 34 was five times its level in 1999, and the rate for 35- to 44-year-old whites tripled during that period.”

• Even as better healthcare reduces deaths from heart disease and other traditional threats, white women are especially vulnerable to premature death from overdoses of legal and illegal drugs.

• The death rate in recent years increased 23 percent for young whites without a high school diploma.

All this bad news will strike a chord with local people who have mourned as young people fall under the evil spell of opioid pills and heroin. Along with methamphetamine, opioid drugs have created a noticeable spike in the number of arrests, accidental deaths and suicides suffered by young adults in our communities.

Most recently, grieving mother Linda Geisler of Knappa sparked widespread community introspection with her heartfelt disclosure of the struggles faced by her late daughter, Whittney Ferguson. The pain suffered by addicts and their families is beyond calculation. In addition, property crimes and lost potential exact an enormous toll on local communities.

Identifying and implementing solutions will require policy changes and intense efforts on the part of families, healthcare providers, law enforcement and others.

Addiction often seems to begin with pain pills taken for injuries or stolen from family members with legitimate prescriptions. As one starting point, it is logical to more closely manage these legal drugs to limit the odds they will be misused. Opioids should, perhaps, be a last option for pain management for young people.

Beyond this, drug addiction is for many a symptom of lack of hope. Although modern heroin addiction famously cuts across economic lines, this new analysis strongly suggests that drop-outs are at greater danger. We need to keep kids in school and try to give all young people a fair shot at success in life.

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