Life expectancy decline attributed to epidemic

After decades of increasing life expectancy for Americans there has been a decline in the last two years, and the promary cause is being attributed to an epidemic.

Chicago Tribune: The epidemic that’s shortening American lives

 In the United States, life expectancy at birth has inched up almost every year over the past half century, going from under 70 years in 1963 to nearly 79 years in 2014. But the progress that once seemed automatic has stopped. Last year, for the second consecutive year, life expectancy declined.

This is not because of a surge in heart attacks among retirees. In fact, life expectancy at age 65 rose a bit in 2016.

Neither is it because of obesity, which has been referred to as a life expectancy time bomb.

The overall decline stems from an increase in the death rate among younger people.

In the 15-24 age group, mortality rose by almost 8 percent; among those 25-34, it jumped by more than 10 percent.

Only among seniors did the death rate decline.

Drugs extend the lives of older people, but shorten and end the lives of many younger people.

More than anything else, the increase is attributable to an epidemic of fatalities from drug overdoses. Last year, 63,632 people died this way — up from 16,849 in 1999. The number of fatalities exceeded the number of Americans who died from auto accidents and gun homicides combined.

More than 3 in 4 of the overdose deaths involved opioids. Heroin and prescription painkillers account for the majority, but the newest and most lethal drug is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin. Deaths involving this and other synthetic opioids (excluding methadone) more than doubled last year, to 19,413.

Drug overdoses now have eclipsed the AIDS epidemic at its height. In October, President Donald Trump declared the problem a public health emergency.

In New Zealand we have had a number of deaths this year attributed to synthetic drugs (sometimes erroneously referred to as synthetic cannabis).

NZH in September: Twenty deaths linked to synthetic drugs

Police believe around 20 people may have died from synthetic drugs.

Police and the Chief Coroner have today reinforced their previous warning to communities about the dangerous consequences of using synthetic drugs.

It comes following the recent deaths of two men aged 22 and 37, and a 26-year-old woman, all from West Auckland who died in separate incidents and where the Coroner is investigating whether synthetic drugs were a possible cause of death.

Police say it is a nationwide problem and are also looking at the recent death of a 21-year-old Feilding man where synthetic drugs may have been involved.

Also from NZH: Synthetic cannabis – a fatal addiction. The short life and tragic death of Calum Jones

Calum Jones’ last words to his sister were a promise.

As he dropped her off at work she asked him to promise her that he would not use synthetic cannabis that day.

“I promise I won’t,” the 22-year-old said.

Hours later he was dead, found lifeless on his bedroom floor by his elderly grandmother.

Synthetic drug addiction and deaths are just a part of a much wider drug problem.

NZH: Thousands of overdose deaths linked to rise in fentanyl in drug supply

That narcotic, increasingly spliced into the nation’s illicit drug supply, is fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller exacerbating heroin’s deadly trap. In cities across America, it is fuelling deeper addiction and has become one of the most prominent killers linked to the nation’s drug crisis.

In 24 of the nation’s largest cities and the counties that surround them, fentanyl-related overdose deaths increased nearly 600 per cent from 2014 to 2016, according to county health departments nationwide. According to overdose records in those cities reviewed by The Washington Post, there were 582 fatal overdoses linked to fentanyl in 2014, a number that soared to 3946 last year. Officials estimate there will be a much higher number of fatal fentanyl-related overdoses in 2017.

NZ Drug Foundation: Underdosing naloxone

In 2012, 41,502 drug overdose deaths were recorded in the US – almost 80 percent of which were accidental, and almost 7 percent were of unknown intent. And the drugs? More than half were pharmaceuticals, and more than 70 percent of these were opioid analgesics.

The non-pharmaceutical deaths? Heroin, mostly, either on its own or combined with alcohol, pharmaceuticals or cocaine. Looking further into the stats makes for some depressing reading. In 2011, there were about 2.5 million visits to US emergency departments due to drug misuse and abuse. Around 71,000 of those were by people under 18 years of age.

And it’s not just the US. Globally, an estimated 69,000 people die each year from opioid overdose (both pharmaceutical drugs like Oxycontin and morphine as well as illegal drugs like heroin and ‘homebake’ opioids). In the US, it’s hit epidemic status, and the rest of the world is seeing increases, especially as prescription medicine misuse is on the rise. It’s also no longer limited to the streets. With the rise in prescription opioids, middle-aged women are one of the rising demographics for overdose rates.

The problem is smaller here

Yes, comparatively, the figures are small in New Zealand. They’re also incredibly difficult to find. Recent statistics suggest that more than 400 people died of a drug overdose in the four years between 2009 and 2013. Of these, it’s estimated that an average of about 30 people per year die of opioid overdose.

But that’s still a significant number. A nephew of mine will be included in those statistics.

But there is another drug that’s an even bigger cause of death.

NZ Drug Foundation –  The New Zealand Drug Harm Index 2016:

That’s a bit dated, but shows a major problem with many drugs. Alcohol is a factor in a lot of crime and quite a few deaths in New Zealand.

A significant factor with alcohol is the amount of harm it does to people other than the user.

Dangerous (and sometimes deliberate) overuse of drugs is one of the biggest dangers to young people.

Along with another addiction, overeating (which has longer term effects), people risk being the cause of a decline in their own life expectancy.

Life saving drugs and medical interventions may not be able to do much about the amount of self harm we do.

And much of this is driven by profit motives, a lot of it legal (as in alcohol and tobacco), and increasingly illegal, with large amounts of drugs being imported.