The shocking rise in opioid addiction in the United States is having a profound impact on the health of the nation. A new report has found that overdoses, the majority of which are down to opioids, has driven down the life expectancy in the US.
While the official statistics show that life expectancy overall in the US is still rising – from 76.8 years to 78.8 years between 2000 and 2015 – that increase was at a slower rate than expected. This stalling in life expectancy has been put down to a rise in the number of deaths due to opioid addiction, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The report found that opioid drugs, in the form of both legally prescribed painkillers such as hydrocodone and illegal ones like fentanyl, cut around two-and-a-half months from the expected lifespans of Americans. To most, this may seem like a little blip, but that figure is comparable to the same reduction caused by suicide, liver disease, sepsis, and Alzheimer’s combined.
By looking at the causes of death among people during this period of time, the researchers found a sharp spike in those who died from a drug overdose, many of which were attributable to opioids. But in even more concerning news, the team suspect that these official figures may actually be an under-representation of the total deaths caused by opioids, as in many cases of overdose, the drug used is not even recorded.
While the deaths from cancer and lung diseases have dropped from 2000 to 2015, the number of drug overdoses has soared. While in 2000, it was recorded that 17,000 people had died of an overdose, by 2015 this figure had risen to 52,000, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict that in 2016 there will be around 64,000 deaths due to drug overdoses in the US.
This figure is more than the total number of US troops killed in combat during the Vietnam War.
The vast majority of these deaths involve opioids. Since 1999, it is thought that the number of people dying due to opioid overdoses has quadrupled. Prescription opioids were thought to be driving this increase in drug overdoses during the early 2000s, and is still a significant problem, particularly among middle-class Americans. However, in recent years, there has been a dramatic and concerning increase in the use of fentanyl, which is a synthetic but much more potent replacement for heroin.