Single or divorced Americans account for high rate of opioid overdose deaths: report

A report released by Sen. Mike Lee’s office says that opioid-related deaths are occurring more frequently among younger Americans, particularly those who are single or divorced and lack a college education.

Never-married and divorced Americans are 32 percent of the U.S. population, but were 71 percent all those who died of opioid overdoses in 2015, said the report by the senator’s Social Capital Project, which examines various aspects of the nation’s social fabric.

Americans who were 25 or older and had a bachelor’s degree or higher made up 33 percent of the population, but only 9 percent of opioid overdose deaths. The 40 percent whose highest level of education was high school accounted for 68 percent of opioid-related deaths, said the report, titled “The Numbers Behind the Opioid Crisis.”

“Opioid-related deaths are not evenly distributed,” Lee, a Utah Republican, told Fox News. “The big takeaway is that there’s a strong social component to our opioid crisis. Opioid addiction seems to have a high rate of correlation to social isolation. Those with a strong family or a good job seem less likely to become victims.”

The report said: “The effects of our opioid crisis on families, communities, and workplaces are far-reaching. For the first time since 1993, life expectancy in the United States declined, with one research paper estimating that opioid overdose deaths accounted for 2.5 months of the 4 months’ decline.”

“The increase in opioid-related drug overdose deaths is a significant contributor to the troubling mortality trends… among white non-Hispanics.”

Opioid overdose deaths have risen among whites and Native Americans, while they have remained low for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the report said. For Hispanics and African-Americans the rates were far lower, at about 10 percent, than they were for non-Hispanic whites but higher than they were for Asian-Americans.

Most people who abused painkillers were not the ones who received the prescriptions for them; rather, they got them – often through theft – from someone who was being treated with them, the report said, echoing other studies.

“Despite the closeness of social networks among prescription opioid abusers, they can remain remarkably isolated from other friends and family members who remain largely unaware of misuse or addiction,” the authors noted.

Families seem to provide a strong defense, perhaps the strongest, against becoming addicted in the first place...We need pro-family policies, we need to identify policies that might be harming families or undermining them.

- Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah

Lee said that while the opioid epidemic is complex, there are steps that the government can take to address the social aspects underpinning addiction and overdose rates.

“Families seem to provide a strong defense, perhaps the strongest, against becoming addicted in the first place,” Lee said. “There’s not an easy, simple answer. We need pro-family policies, we need to identify policies that might be harming families or undermining them, that might be discouraging people from getting married or that punish them for doing so, or other policies that erode the family structure.”

Lee said that the private sector could benefit from some of the more generous flexible schedule policies that the government has for public employees, allowing them to take time for family events or to take care of personal family matters.

Another suggestion is to review policies or legislative proposals that hit hardest those who are married and have children, he said.

“One simple one [to rethink] is the marriage tax penalty, which adversely affects people who get married, or built-in parent tax penalties, which are more subtle.”

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.