Source: Health Policy Institute of Ohio
Life expectancy is declining in high-income countries worldwide, driven in part by the effects of the opioid epidemic on younger adults in the United States, two new studies suggest (Source: “Life Expectancy Declines Seen in U.S. and other High-Income Countries,” Reuters, August 22, 2018).
Life expectancy is a measure of the health and wellbeing of a population. Widespread or sustained declines in life expectancy may signal problems in a nation’s social and economic conditions or in the provision or quality of its healthcare services, researchers write in The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal).
The first study looked at trends across 18 high-income countries and found that most countries experienced declines in life expectancy in 2015. Out of 18 countries in the study, 12 experienced life expectancy declines among men and 11 experienced life expectancy declines among women.
In the United States, the source of reduced life-expectancy was concentrated at younger ages, particularly deaths among those in their 20s and 30s, and largely driven by increases in drug-overdose deaths related to the nation’s ongoing opioid epidemic.
A second study in The BMJ suggests, however, that the problems driving life expectancy declines in the United States are broader than just the opioid crisis and may extend to a wide range of causes unrelated to drug use or substance abuse.
“A leading cause is fatal drug overdoses, fueled by the opioid epidemic, but we make a mistake if we focus only on the drug problem, which is just the tip of the iceberg,” said lead study author Steven H. Woolf, MD, MPH, of the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. “Deaths from alcoholism and suicides have also increased, what some call deaths of despair.”