Movember 2023: Men and Drug Overdoses, Updated through 2022
The pandemic made things worse -- can we reverse?
Howdy all — I will be doing Giving Tuesday tomorrow (November 28, 2023) for the Movember Foundation, of course.
Because I don’t know when you’ll see this post, I’ll put all my fundraising links on this post, too:
2023 Movember Fundraiser
Here are the places you can donate to the Movember Foundation, which supports men’s health, specifically focusing on prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and men’s mental health:
Mary Pat Campbell’s MoSpace – a place to donate at Movember itself
My Movember Facebook fundraiser – my officially linked fundraiser, if this works better for you
And here’s a QR code if that works better for you:
Now to the mortality stats.
Sex Gap in Drug Overdose Deaths, 1999-2022
Note, the following graphs are all for unintentional drug overdoses.
To be sure, according to official CDC stats, very few drug overdoses are accounted as homicides or suicides. It is difficult to know. But I think it’s reasonable to assume that people taking the drugs that killed them wanted an effect other than death… maybe.
In 2020-2021, drug overdose death rates increased greatly for both males and females, and there can be many pandemic-related aspects I can think of that caused it:
stimulus checks spent on “fun” one could still have in lockdown (also shown in the increase in alcohol spending)
people in lockdown indulged in drugs alone, and thus didn’t have friends around to call in emergencies… so weren’t saved from their ODs
reduction in mental health and drug treatment supports during pandemic
mental health deterioration in general, even for people who hadn’t had problems before
potential self-medication/ill effects of COVID interacting for regular drug users (maybe having harsher effects than expected)
higher supplies of drugs as governmental activities diverted from anti-drug focus
These are all just possible explanations, many of which could interact with each other. I don’t know if any of these are “the” reason, and the likely explanation will be a combination of factors.
As you can see from the above graph, there were bad trends before the pandemic. There had been a large increase in OD deaths (for both men and women) in 2016 alone. There had been a steady increase in the early 2000s, and the acceleration in the mid-2010s came with the advent of illegal street fentanyl.
Since fentanyl came on the scene (as opposed to “just” oxycontin and heroin), the sex ratio of drug OD deaths has been 2.5x male-female.
Age profile of trend, 1999-2022, males
Let’s look at how the drug OD death rates have trended by age group:
There are interesting age breakpoints in this graph.
Under age 25, perhaps people are more likely to be living under adult supervision, as it were — or even in a group situation. Or, maybe, if you use drugs, you’re more likely to survive an adverse reaction.
Note the difference in trajectory against those aged 65-74, which has an organic-looking increase. Perhaps those are drug ODs from prescription drug use or other people having trouble from chronic pain issues.
Those over age 75 have a very low rate — that seems likely to just be mistaken poisonings. Perhaps somebody getting confused over the drugs they have to take as they get old. Not all “drug poisonings” are for getting high.
You can see most of the male drug OD deaths are for those aged 25 - 64 years old, with the highest rate being for those aged 35-44.
There was some improvement for those aged 25-34 years old in 2022, but that’s just provisional statistics — when the finalized stats come in (more from denominator - population estimates, not death estimates), it may be a wash. But notice that we saw improvement in that age group in 2017-2018, too — maybe there is some responsiveness that can continue there as we come out of pandemic conditions. Younger men are more likely to be able to survive the health ravages of an overdose, unlike older men, where heart or brain damage may be much more difficult to bounce back from.
When November is over, I’m going to be looking more closely at heart disease — I think we’ll see that there has been lots of damage that has hit men more than women from Covid, and there will be a long time digging out from underneath this.
But over-stressed hearts can be overwhelmed in drug overdoses as well. For death, it just takes one thing. We have to survive all the hazards - not just one.
For men, the hazards come younger than for women.
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