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U.S. Life Expectancy Drops for the Second Year in a Row, Thanks to the Opioid Crisis

U.S. Life Expectancy Drops for the Second Year in a Row, Thanks to the Opioid Crisis
Here's some disheartening news to close out your year: America's life expectancy, the average time a U.S. citizen is expected to live, fell for the second year in row this year, with the catalyst being the ever-rising number of fatal overdoses due to opioids in this country. This is especially disconcerting when you consider the fact that due to medical advancements in this country, up until now the life expectancy rate was actually steadily increasing with only occasional drops here and there. A country's life expectancy essentially tells you the health of the country in a nutshell, and ours isn't good.

The last time the U.S. experienced a drop in life expectancy was back in 1993 due to the AIDS epidemic. This is the first time life expectancy has seen a two-year successive drop since the early part of the 1960s. In 2016, life expectancy in the U.S. fell from an average age at death of 78.7 to 78.6. This is even more of a drop than the decrease from the 78.9 that was reported back in 2014. Researchers hoped that drop was a fluke, but unfortunately trends are now suggesting otherwise.

This may not sound like a significant drop, and for your average individual it isn't. However, for an overall population, any drop in life expectancy translates to a significant number of lives that had the potential to be lived even longer and that sadly were not. Of course, the picture may look slightly skewed due to the fact that less people are dying from heart disease in the U.S., but many more are dying every day from fatal overdoses, which is leading to the surge in opioids becoming the number one cause of death in this country.

In recent years, those who have died from fatal overdoses related to opioids number into the tens of thousands – not hundreds, not thousands, but tens of thousands. In just one year, we have nearly added 10,000 more deaths related to fatal overdoses (42,200) than that which were reported in 2015 (33,000). Scarier still is the soaring rate of overdose deaths attributed to synthetic opioids, with a rate of 3.1 per 100,000 being reported in 2015…to 6.2 per 100,000 in 2016. These numbers are jaw-dropping and heartbreaking. If anything, these numbers show that the epidemic is getting worse, not better.

In addition to trying to thin out the supply of heroin and fentanyl in this country, we also need to take steps to better treat those Americans who are already suffering from addiction. Access to high-quality medical care is crucial if we want to actively fight yet another increase in these numbers next year.

There are other factors to suggest a decrease in our life expectancy rate in addition to the opioid epidemic. For instance, the rate of suicide among white individuals is significantly higher than it was in the past, as are fatalities involving alcohol. Anne Case, an economist at Princeton University, believes that this data may point to a potentially larger and as yet undetected problem that is affecting individuals nationwide.