For the first time since the AIDs epidemic in the early ’90s, the life expectancy of the American population is on a dangerous downtrend. This time it is due to another deadly epidemic — the opioid crisis, which is seeing tens of thousands of people die of drug-related deaths every year. According to a frightening new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the problem has gotten so out of hand that American life expectancy at birth has declined for the second consecutive year in a row.
In total, life expectancy dropped by just a 10th of a year. A baby born in 2016 is likely to live 78.6 years, as compared to 78.7 for a baby born the prior year. However, life expectancy decreased two-tenths of a year for men, who are twice as likely as women to die of a drug overdose.
“This is urgent and deadly,” said Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The opioid epidemic “clearly has a huge impact on our entire society.”
In 2016 there was a whopping 21 percent increase in the death rate from overdoses, with 63,632 people dying from drug-related deaths. The percentage increased to 28 percent for opioid overdoses, which accounted for two-thirds of all drug-related deaths, with more than 42,000 Americans falling victim.
The scariest statistic has to do with the pain medication fentanyl and other synthetic opioids like oxycodone, morphine and hydrocodone — casualties from those more than doubled from 2015 to 2016. Deaths from heroin and from prescription opioid overdoses also rose, but less significantly.
It’s important to note this is not an international trend. “The rest of the world is improving. The rest of the world is seeing large declines in mortality and large improvements in life expectancy,” said Peter Muennig, a professor of health policy and management at Columbia University, via USA Today. “That’s true in rich countries and middle-income countries and generally true even in lower-income countries.”
A regression hasn’t occurred since 1993, when life expectancy rates were affected during the worst point of the AIDS epidemic. There has not been a two-year dip since 1962 and 1963, when a bad wave of influenza led to a wave of casualties.
While death rates in the United States did decrease for seven out of the 10 leading causes of death — heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, strokes, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia and kidney disease fell — they rose for suicide, Alzheimer’s disease and “unintentional injuries,” a category that includes drug overdoses.
According to a recent Surgeon General’s report, Dayton, Ohio, Baltimore and Philadelphia are three of the nation’s cities struggling the most with the drug epidemic.
In addition to death by overdose, drug use can, of course, also negatively impact your health in a variety of ways, including damaging the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs. It can also expose you to communicable diseases, such as hepatitis C, HIV and AIDS, disrupt your hormones and digestive tract or lead to brain damage.
There are also the emotional repercussions that often come with drug addition, including depression and suicide. Brain damage can also lead to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, reduced memory and anxiety and phobias.
If you (or someone you know) is struggling with drug addiction, it is best to speak with a health professional as soon as possible. There is help out there for you.
What Do YOU Think?
Are you surprised that life expectancy is decreasing? Why do you think the drug epidemic is so out of control? What are some things we can do to help turn the situation around?