For the first time in 50 years, the average life expectancy rate has gone down in the United States. The root cause? The Opioid Epidemic.
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Opioid Epidemic – The Facts
The last time the American life expectancy rate took a dive was in 1963 – after the height of the Mad Men, tobacco use epidemic, and a wave of serious flu. Since then, we have been in the top ten for life expectancy worldwide.
However, with this new epidemic that has been ravaging Americans of all ages, financial brackets, and parts of the country, we have started to see a serious upswing in annual deaths, the nation over.
- 63,000 Americans were killed by drug overdoses in 2016, that is an increase of 21% from the year before.
- This is the first time in 100 years, since the Spanish flu, that the United States has seen a decline in life expectancy for two years in a row.
- Since the introduction of opioid medication in the late 90’s, the overdose rate has increased every year.
- For each person who dies of an opioid overdose, 18 people had a substance use disorder involving heroin
- Life Expectancy rates for males have been more affected, reportedly dropping down to 76.1 years, a drop of 0.2 years.
Many experts have weighed in on the subject, stating that this has been a long time coming. As for the year 2017, the data is still being compiled, but according to the chief of the mortality statistics branch for the National Health Center for Health Statistics, Robert Anderson, “It doesn’t look any better”.
The greatest offender? Fentanyl.
- Between 2015-2016, synthetic opioid deaths doubled, from 3.1 per 100,000 to 6.2
- For 2016, 16.3 per every 100,000 died of a drug overdose – increased by 21%, with 19.8 for every 100,000.
Behavioral Sciences Professor at Stanford University, Anna Lembke, states, “What we’re seeing now is the second wave of this epidemic. The first wave started with physicians overprescribing… The second wave has translated into widespread, increased use of illicit opioids, heroin, fentanyl, heroin laced with fentanyl.”
Geographics of the Opioid Epidemic
While some areas have definitely stood out as those with higher death rates, the Opioid Epidemic is affecting the entire country. It is hard to go on social media these days and not see at least one post about a person losing a friend or loved one.
Out of all 50, the five worst death rate states are West Virginia at number one, followed by Ohio, New Hampshire, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania.
- As West Virginia is in the lead, every 52 out of 100,000 people died of an overdose
- The other 4 states averaged around 38 overdose deaths out of every 100,000
Anna Lembke also stated, “This is going to take a good 10 to 20 years to really turn around. We’ve got multiple generations of people that are already addicted, and it’s going to be a real struggle to help those people.”
With the declaration of a national health emergency this past October, the Trump administration has allocated already present funds towards more advertising, safer prescribing methods for physicians around the country, and increased MAT programs.
As far as action goes, not much else has been done to increase the life expectancy rates and lower the widespread use of opioids in this country. Despite the obvious destruction that has been ravaging the country for the last decade, the government has just now made any sort of declaration about donating federal funding to aid in the fight.
However, with the supposed abolishment of ObamaCare, millions of people are going to be losing health care coverage, which will deny people the invaluable option of receiving substance abuse treatment.
Lembke states, “One-time grants are ultimately not going to change the course of this epidemic. It’s going to require systemic changes, infrastructure changes, changes in the ways that healthcare delivery happens.”
Opioid Epidemic – Something’s Gotta Give
So, with the seeming stacks against all of us, how can we do anything to help stop the opioid epidemic? How can we help ourselves, our loved ones, family members, and friends who might be struggling with addiction?
With the life expectancy going down, is there any chance that maybe the Trump Administration will allocate more funding towards the fight against the opioid epidemic? So far there has only been meetings to discuss what to do, without actually coming up with any plans.
However, there have been groups around the rest of the nation, consisting of educators, members of the recovery community, and harm reduction programs, that have been putting in the effort to try and reduce the death toll.
For example, Harm Reduction programs fall under the line of thought that, as long as there are drugs out there, people are going to use them. So instead of trying to create a new, War on Drugs, they promote education, and safe using habits for people. In methods like clean needle exchanges, substance abuse treatment assistance, and education, they hope to help at least increase that life expectancy rate by keeping people safe where they can.
Lawmakers and educators on a more local spectrum, i.e., those not working directly in Congress or in executive seats, have started researching and looking into ways to fight the opioid epidemic on the home front. Many methods they have employed so far is community outreach programs, more discussion, and open-mindedness in communities about the dangers of opioids and other drugs, and by pressing Congress to allocate more funding towards MAT programs and wider substance abuse treatment availability.
Some states have even taken to suing pharmaceutical companies and physicians that are enforcing or encouraging unsafe prescribing methods, which is a huge part of the problem.
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