Deaths of Despair and the Incidence of Excess Mortality in 2020
Weekly mortality through October 3 is partitioned into normal deaths, COVID, and nonCOVID excess deaths (NCEDs). Before March, the excess is negative for the elderly, likely due to the mild flu season. From March onward, excess deaths are approximately 250,000 of which about 17,000 appear to be a COVID undercount and 30,000 non-COVID. Deaths of despair (drug overdose, suicide, alcohol) in 2017 and 2018 are good predictors of the demographic groups with NCEDs in 2020. The NCEDs are disproportionately experienced by men aged 15-55, including men aged 15-25. Local data on opioid overdoses further support the hypothesis that the pandemic and recession were associated with a 10 to 60 percent increase in deaths of despair above already high pre-pandemic levels.
I appreciate conversations with Tomas Philipson and financial support from the Program on Foundational Research on Health Care Markets at the Becker-Friedman Institute. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.