Opioid crisis creating drop in life expectancy among young adults in U.S.


The United States is among 14 high-income countries with declining life expectancy rates, according to new research recently published in the British Medical Journal.

>> Read more trending news 

The research features findings from two separate observational studies, one pointing to the ongoing opioid crisis in the U.S. as a key contributor to recent declines, and another suggesting the declines in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom transcend the opioid epidemic among diverse populations.

Only four countries included in the first study of 18 high-income nations — Australia, Japan, Denmark and Norway — showed increasing rates for both men and women in 2015. 

>> Related: What’s killing America’s teens? Inside CDC’s new mortality report

The other 14, including Australia, Japan, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States all saw declines between 2014 and 2015.

According to the latest figures from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the life expectancy for men and women in the U.S. in 2016 was 76.1 and 81.1 years.

“This is the first time in recent decades that these many high income countries simultaneously experienced declines in life expectancy for both men and women, and the size of these declines were larger than in the past,” Science Daily reported.

>> Related: Major depression diagnoses in US up 33 percent since 2013, study finds

Furthermore, according to the researchers, deaths in the U.S. were concentrated among younger adults in their 20s and 30s, whereas declines in overall life expectancy outside the U.S. focused on people 65 and older.

“The USA now has the lowest life expectancy levels among high income developed countries, and Americans fare poorly across a broad set of ages, health conditions, and causes of death compared with their counterparts in these countries,” according to the study.

This concentrated decline among a younger cohort is strongly related to the “ongoing, large scale drug overdose epidemic stemming from misuse of prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl,” researchers wrote, noting that compared to other countries, the U.S. actually performs relatively well at older ages.

>> Related: Opioids now kill more Americans than guns or breast cancer, CDC says

Since 2000, the opioid epidemic has claimed more than 300,000 lives and every day, 115 Americans die from prescription opioids and illicit opioids, according to the CDC.

The number of overdose deaths involving opioids in 2016 was five times higher than in 1999.

The second study featured in the journal, based on 1996-2016 death rate data for people aged 25-64 years, suggested “the opioid epidemic is the tip of an iceberg,” study author Steven Woolf said in a statement.

>> Related: Doctors and the opioid crisis: An AJC National Investigation

“No single factor, such as opioids, explains this phenomenon” of dramatic declines in mortality rates across multiple racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. and U.K., researchers wrote.

Woolf and his colleagues acknowledged that drug overdoses, suicides and alcoholism are the leading cause of added deaths, but heart disease, influenza, lung disease, Alzheimer’s, mental disorders and “deaths of despair” signal “a systemic cause” of worsening health conditions in America.

>> Related: People are using their pets to get opioids, FDA warns

While their findings revealed overall death rates were higher among men, fatal drug overdoses and suicides were greater among women, adding to previous research about health care disadvantages among women.

And, according to social gerontology expert Holly Nelson-Becker, who was not involved in either study, countries which increasing environmental threats may be more susceptible to influenza and respiratory problems, she told CNN.

“The fact that modern healthcare systems in the most advanced high-income countries were unable to cope with this unexpected challenge, resulting in the first reductions in longevity for decades, is striking and might signal more profound problems,” Domantas Jasilionis, researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany, wrote in an accompanying editorial.

>> Related: Meth, ‘the Devil’s drug,’ is back and killing more people than ever

Jasilionis believes the declines in the U.K. and U.S. are perpetuated by social inequality, poverty and declining health care quality.

“More effort must be made to convince international and national agencies to invest in robust register based systems that allow timely and accurate monitoring of changes in longevity,” he added.

>> Related: Why are more black women dying of breast cancer compared to white women?

Because both studies were observational in nature, the authors note that they could not establish cause and effect.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Nation & World

Drama continues as Senate GOP gives more time to Kavanaugh accuser
Drama continues as Senate GOP gives more time to Kavanaugh accuser

After posting a schedule for a Monday morning vote on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court, unable to work out an agreement for testimony from a woman who accused the judge of sexual misconduct back when they were teenagers, Republicans gave extra time to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford to consider testimony...
CDC: Life expectancy in U.S. declines for second year in a row
CDC: Life expectancy in U.S. declines for second year in a row

For the second year in a row, the life expectancy of Americans got shorter. >> Read more trending news  According to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the overall life expectancy in the U.S. was 78.6 years, down .1 from the previous year. Men can expect to live 76.1 years, down from...
Hurricane Safety: What are hurricane categories and what do they mean?
Hurricane Safety: What are hurricane categories and what do they mean?

The East Coast is no stranger to hurricanes and the destruction that follows. The Saffir-Simpson scale was developed to help determine damage and flooding before it strikes.   What is a hurricane?  A hurricane is a rotating low-pressure weather system that converts the energy of warm air into winds and waves. Hurricanes have “warm...
Hurricane Safety: Here’s a step-by-step guide to filing an insurance claim
Hurricane Safety: Here’s a step-by-step guide to filing an insurance claim

A hurricane leaves a path of destruction and many are left trying to figure out how to begin the chore of cleaning up and repairing their property.  >> Read more trending news  Insurance companies will send claims teams to the affected areas after the event so that customers can get the process of filing a claim started and get the...
At impasse over testimony by accuser, GOP sets Monday panel vote on Kavanaugh
At impasse over testimony by accuser, GOP sets Monday panel vote on Kavanaugh

Ending several days of increasingly political battles over a woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee declared Friday night that they were unable to reach an agreement for the testimony of Kavanaugh’s accuser, and set a committee vote for...
More Stories