American life expectancy has been cut short by opioids

According to a newly released study, opioid drugs — including both legally prescribed painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, as well as illegal drugs such as heroin or illicit fentanyl — are not only killing Americans, they are shortening their overall life spans.

Findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that opioids take about 2½ months off the life expectancy of Americans.

The American life expectancy has now dropped twice in the past five years, most recently in 2015.  You have to go back to 1993 to find the next most recent drop which would sound off an alarm, if it wasn’t already going off across the nation.

According to a recent government report, the number one reason people misuse prescription drugs is to manage pain.  This has spurred a wave of new guidelines and recommendations from many respected health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control, the American College of Physicians, the Federal Drug Administration, The Joint Commission, and others which call for the use of nonpharmacologic pain treatment modalities first, before opioids or other pain killers are prescribed.

Chiropractic’s non-drug approach is relevant today in light of the rampant overuse and abuse of prescription opioids. Doctors of chiropractic are experts in the treatment of musculoskeletal problems and their drug-free approach may in some cases reduce or even eliminate the need for pain medications.

The JAMA report also showed that from 2000 to 2015, death rates due to heart disease, diabetes and other key causes declined, adding 2¼ years to US life expectancy. But increases in deaths from Alzheimer’s disease, suicide and other causes offset some of those gains.

Americans can now expect to live 78.8 years on average, according to data from 2015, the most recent data available. That’s a statistically significant drop of about a month from the previous year.  Women can still expect to live longer than men — 81.2 years vs. 76.3 years — but both of those estimates were lower in 2015 than they were in 2014.

Drug overdose deaths are expected to continue to reach new record highs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects drug overdose deaths to top 64,000 in 2016 when the numbers are finalized — that’s more than the number of American troops lost during the Vietnam War. Most of these overdoses involved an opioid. Since 1999, the number of opioid-related drug deaths has more than quadrupled.

While prescription opioids like oxycodone or hydrocodone were considered to be driving factors in the increasing rates of overdose in the early part of the 2000s, heroin and illicit fentanyl have become the drivers for opioid overdose deaths in recent years. In fact, the number of overdose deaths related to fentanyl is expected to more than double, from an estimated 9,945 in 2016 to 20,145 in 2017, the CDC says. For the first time, fentanyl will be the leading cause of opioid overdose.

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References: Contribution of Opioid-Involved Poisoning to the Change in Life Expectancy in the United States, 2000-2015. JAMA. 2017;318(11):1065-1067. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.9308

Opioid overdoses shorten US life expectancy by 2½ months.  Nadia Kounang. September 19, 2017.