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Opioid Overdoses Decrease Life Expectancy In The United States

Joseph Sitarik, DO

Medically reviewed by

Joseph Sitarik, DO

March 26, 2019

Life expectancy in the U.S. dropped due to the increased rate of opioid overdose deaths. Treating opioid dependence and addiction is the best way to help combat this ongoing epidemic.

Opioid Overdose Deaths Reach New Highs

As drug overdose deaths increased at an alarming rate of 21 percent in 2016, life expectancy dropped two and a half months. This is the first time, since a 1993 AIDS epidemic, that the U.S. has shown such a drop.

For individuals two and a half months may not seem like a whole lot of time, yet, when looking at the population as a whole, there are a lot of lives which could be affected.

The CDCs report also reflects that the death rates for the nation actually fell in 2016. This includes deaths due to cancer and heart disease, but the at birth life expectancy fell. This is because more young people (under the age 65) died during 2016. This indicates that if a person lives to be 65 their odds of live another 19 years or so are pretty good.

But fewer people are living to 65, and the biggest killers of young people include “unintentional injuries.” This category includes drug overdoses, traffic crashes, and falls. Their totals rose 9.7 percent in 2016 alone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report December 21, 2017 stating that more than 42,200 Americans died from opioid overdose in 2016, increasing 21 percent from the previous year. Making it clear, that opioid overdose was a driving factor in the increased death rate for unintentional injuries.

Life expectancy has been on the rise in the United States for the last few decades with a few downward spikes. However, analysis report that life expectancy fell from 78.8 in 2015 to 78.6 in 2016.

This trend is very concerning, as life expectancy is considered to be an important indicator of the well-being of a country. “If you look at all the other developed countries in the world, they are not experiencing this same kind of thing,” said Bob Anderson, chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch at the National Center for Health Statistics.

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The Opioid Epidemic: A National Emergency

Although the drug crisis has been around since the 1970s when The Controlled Substances Act came into law, the U.S. continues to struggle with this crisis. In 2017, Donald Trump announced that the opioid epidemic was a national emergency and will be treated as such.

Many public officials point to the over-prescribing of opioids as the cause of the epidemic. While this may be a contributing factor, some health and sociological experts are saying that the abuse of opioids is only the tip of the iceberg. The real problem lies underneath, the reason behind multiple individuals all over the country are abusing these drugs to the point of fatal overdose, is the lack of hope for the future.

In the past there were well-paying jobs and people were more likely to marry and have a family. Now there is a decline in well-paying jobs, fewer people are getting married and more are having children outside of marriages.

The combinations of these factors have lead to a more fragile existence then was experienced a generation ago. There are also other factors that are contributing to the life expectancy that make experts believe in the theory that there is more going on behind the opioid overdoses.

The CDC report also indicated an increased rate of death by suicide in 2016 and, although the rate for death caused by heart disease did decrease in 2016, yet heart disease still claims many lives every year.

Which Opioids Are Being Abused?

In the early 2000s oxycodone and hydrocodone were considered to be the driving factors in the increased rates of opioid overdose deaths. However, the CDC reports that the opioids such as fentanyl, fentanyl analogs and tramadol were more likely to result in overdose death since approximately 2013.

Fentanyl is a prescription painkiller that can be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, depending on the dose. In 2015 nearly 10,000 people died from overdosing on synthetic opioids, excluding methadone, the CDC reports.

Heroin was the second most abused opioid that resulted in more overdose deaths. Heroin overdose deaths have almost quadrupled from 2002 to 2013, according to the CDC.

How Medically-Assisted Detox Can Help

For individuals struggling with an addiction to opiates, it is often recommended that they detox under the supervision of a qualified medical professional or in an inpatient rehabilitation setting. Medical-assisted therapies for opioid addiction include newer injectable drugs that will block opioid cravings and reduce more painful withdrawal symptoms.

It is possible for a person to feel depressed after stopping the use of opioids. Addiction specialist can provide the right type of treatment when these types of co-occurring medical problems happen.

Complete detox from opioids typically only takes a week or so, depending on the time and amount abused. Different treatment facilities can prescribe different types of therapies that complement the detoxification process.

Why Opioid Addiction Treatment Is Important

Treatment programs can approach addiction from multiple angles and use many treatment types. After detoxing in an inpatient facility it is possible to enter into a residential program or support group that will meet regularly to keep the focus on healing and help prevent relapse.

Continuing treatment after detox is important because opioid addiction can be very strong. When the addicted individual is given the space and assistance to figure out the root-cause of their addiction they can more easily identify what triggers the behavior that lead to the addiction.

People learn how to deal with cravings in recovery by developing coping skills. An aftercare plan may be a good fit for opioid addiction treatment. With an aftercare plan it is more likely to create and maintain a good support network that can get you through any difficult moments.

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