Shorter Life Expectancy In U.S. Attributed To Painkiller Epidemic

Deaths due to opioid overdose have risen most among people ages 25-44.

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Last year in the US, deaths from drug overdose surpassed deaths from car accidents. Now, research shows that the opioid epidemic (heroin, Fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone, etc.) has officially driven down life expectancy for Americans—unprecedented for a developed nation and former leader in longevity.

New research published in the Journal of American Medical Association, titled “Contribution of Opioid-Involved Poisoning to the Change in Life Expectancy in the United States, 2000-2015” was written by Deborah Dowell, MD, Elizabeth Arias, PhD and Kenneth Kochanek, MA. According to the study, drug overdose deaths tripled between 2000 and 2015.

Although life expectancy for Americans increased from 76.8 years to 78.8 years between 2000 and 2015, the trend isn’t holding up—considering from 1970 and 2000, life expectancy rose an average of 2.5 months per year. Removing opiates from the equation, Americans should live to be more than 79. Canadians, for comparison, are currently expected to live past 82.                                                              

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Deaths from drug overdose rapidly grew over this period, while 17,000 Americans died from an overdose in the year 2000, this number increased to over 52,000 for the year 2015. According to the Verge, the reduction in expectancy attributed to overdose is nearly “the same reduction attributable to rising death rates from injuries, Alzheimer’s, suicide, chronic liver disease, and sepsis combined”.

As reported by the Washington Post, this trend in overdose crosses ethnicities and largely has increased mortality for people ages 25-44. “What it reflects is an out-of-control epidemic right now,” said Josh Sharfstein, from the Bloomberg American Health Initiative at Johns Hopkins. “It’s affecting the economy. It’s affecting the entire community. This is an absolute call to action for public health.”

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