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Opioid Deaths, Suicides Reduce Life Expectancy for Americans

Neither women nor men in the United States rank among the top three countries where people live the longest lives.
Neither women nor men in the United States rank among the top three countries where people live the longest lives.
January 3, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. – It's no longer a secret that Americans are dying at an alarming rate from a nationwide opioid crisis and increased suicide rate, and those factors also are contributing to reduction in life expectancy.

Late last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a sustained, three-year drop in life expectancy not seen since 1918, when it was attributed to deaths from World War I and a flu pandemic.

Population health researcher Stephen Bezruchka says life expectancy is on the rise around the globe, but not in the United States.

He points out there are now 35 countries where people live longer lives.

"So, people's lives are not what they expect to have, and the fact that mortality in adulthood – that is, the 25 to 64-year range, the prime of life – that's going up and people are internalizing the stress of life, and stress kills," he stresses.

The CDC's preliminary figures showed that 72,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses in 2017 – nearly 200 a day.

The number of suicides nationwide was 47,000, the highest in a half century.

In the past five decades, the gap between the rich and poor has risen significantly in the U.S., and Bezruchka notes that societies with high levels of economic inequality typically have lower life-expectancy rates.

He adds that societal dysfunction may be causing people to self-medicate with drugs.

"What's our response to all these increasing deaths from opioids?” he questions. “Well, it's putting Naltrexone, the opioid antagonist, in public places so if somebody is overdosing you can try to revive them instead of asking the question, 'Why are we the world's biggest users of opioids?' "

Currently, American men can expect to live about 76 years, while women live on average to be 81 years old.

Bezruchka says that's far behind the typical 87-year lifespan for Japanese women.

"Why would women be falling behind the other countries in health stats?” he asks. “What's expected of an American woman?

“Everything. You have to have a successful career, be a loving wife, a caring soccer mom, have to have the physique of a jock, the looks of a supermodel – and it's hard to do all that."

In addition to Japan, women live the longest in Spain and Switzerland, while men live the longest in Switzerland, Australia and Japan.

Minnesota men lead the nation with a life expectancy of nearly 79 years, while women rank fourth at nearly 83 years.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - MN