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Opioid-related deaths are shaving time off life expectancy

America’s opioid crisis has affected the nation’s life expectancy rate, new figures from the CDC have revealed.

The rate of drug-poisoning deaths increased drastically from 2000 to 2015, shooting up from 17,415 to 52,404, according to the new report.

And today’s new figures show that, while the overall life expectancy rate increased by two years during this time – rising from 76.8 to 78.8 – about two months were lost to opioid-involved poisoning deaths.

And the study’s authors are warning that this figure is likely underestimated because not all drug-poisoning deaths are accurately reported.

Experts are urging public health officials to rein in the opioid epidemic before it shortens the American life expectancy rate even more.

New CDC data have revealed that drug-poisoning related deaths shaved about four months off of the US life expectancy rate from 2000 to 2015. Opioid-poisoning related deaths, specifically, accounted for two of those months


The life expectancy of US residents has steadily increased since 1900, when it was 47.3 years.

However, the life expectancy of black people in the US has consistently been shorter than that of whites.

That being said, the gap between these two life expectancy rates is lessening.

In 1900, the difference was 17.3 years, as the life expectancy for black Americans was 33 years.

This disparity in life expectancy rates is consistent with a growing body of research revealing that the healthcare that white people receive in the US is generally better than that which black people have access to. 

The new data reveal that the number of deaths resulting from drug poisoning in the US more than doubled between 2000 and 2015. And those involving opioids, specifically, more than tripled. 

Data that the CDC accessed to create the new analysis came death certificates from each US territory.

The report found that death rates related to cancer, heart disease, cerebrovascular diseases, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, chronic lower respiratory diseases and kidney disease went down, contributing to a gain in life expectancy.

However, death rates related to Alzheimer disease, unintentional injuries, suicide, septicemia (sepsis) and unintentional injuries increased.

And the study said that the number of people per every 100,000 who died from drug poisoning jumped from about six in 2000 to 16.3 in 2015.

Even though the life expectancy rate went up by two years during that time, drug-poisoning related deaths accounted for a loss of about four months (0.28 years) in the life expectancy rate.

About 96 percent of that loss was unintentional, the study said, so the drug-poisoning related deaths were classified as ‘unintentional injuries’.

And the grim study claims that its findings probably do not represent the full scope of the problem.

The authors write: ‘The finding for the contribution of opioid-involved poisoning deaths to the change in life expectancy is likely an underestimate because the accuracy and completeness of information recorded on death certificates affect cause-specific death rates.’

They also point out the fact that on the death certificates of 25 percent of cases involving drug-poisoning, the specific drug responsible for the death is not named.

Dr Silvia Martins, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University, said that many preventative measures need to be taken to make sure the opioid epidemic does not further impact the life expectancy rate.

She said that it is key that officials begin ‘educating the public not to be afraid to call 911’.

‘The general public needs to be educated about the problems that can come from prescription opioids,’ Dr Martins said.

In addition to that, people addicted to drugs – and their family members – need to be aware of treatment options.

Dr Martins said: ‘People should know that treatment is available. People should try to seek help. Advocate for availability.’

Lastly, Dr Martins said that naloxone – a drug that reverses the symptoms of an opioid overdose – should be more widely available given the current opioid epidemic in the US. She said that more people need to be trained to treat someone with naloxone.

The study’s authors conclude that the detrimental affects of the opioid crisis on America’s life expectancy rate will likely worsen unless steps are taken to control the epidemic.

‘These findings suggest that preventing opioid-related deaths will be important to achieving more robust increases in life expectancy once again,’ it reads.