By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
Rising suicides and drug overdose deaths led to another decline in U.S. left expectancy last year, according to two sobering reports released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Americans born in 2017 are expected to live 78.6 years, about one month less than those born in 2016. Life expectancy has fallen or remained flat in the U.S. for three consecutive years. The UK is the only other country in the industrialized world where life expectancy is dropping.
“Tragically, this troubling trend is largely driven by deaths from drug overdose and suicide. Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” CDC director Robert Redfield, MD, said in a statement.
Redfield, who almost lost a son to a drug overdose, has been nearly invisible since becoming CDC director in March. He has previously called the opioid epidemic “the public health crisis of our time” and pledged to “bring this epidemic to its knees.”
So far, the CDC’s strategies, including its controversial 2016 opioid prescribing guideline, are not working. As PNN has reported, the guideline may even be contributing to the rising number of suicides and overdoses.
Over 70,200 people died of a drug overdose in 2017 – the highest number on record and nearly a 10 percent increase from 2016. Deaths involving illicit fentanyl and other synthetic, mostly black market opioids surged 45 percent, while deaths involving natural or semisynthetic opioids, mostly painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, remained flat. The rate of heroin deaths also remained unchanged.
CDC researchers noted that their data is flawed. Drug overdose deaths often involve multiple drugs, and “a single death might be included in more than one drug category.” A death “involving” a specific drug also doesn’t mean that drug was the cause of death. It only means the drug was present at the time of death. The competency of medical examiners and coroners who complete death certificates can also vary widely from state to state.
The CDC reported that over 47,000 people committed suicide last year, nearly 4 percent more than in 2016. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among all age groups – and the 2nd leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults aged 10 to 34.
Reports Ignored Role of Antidepressants, ADHD Drugs
The CDC reports did not explore the role of drugs used to treat depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) in either suicides or overdoses.
According to a recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Xanax, Valium, Adderall and other psychotherapeutic drugs were involved in more overdoses in 2016 than prescription opioids.
A report this week from the Research Abuse Diversion and Addiction Related Surveillance System (RADARS), which tracks illicit drug use nationwide, underscores that emerging trend. RADARS found that the abuse of ADHD stimulants now exceeds the abuse of prescription opioids by Americans aged 19 or younger. The rising trend in “intentional exposures” to stimulants – which includes suicide – began in 2010 and is accelerating.
“There have been more pediatric exposures involving stimulants than pediatric exposures involving natural/semi-synthetic opioid analgesics in every quarter since 4th quarter 2014. The increase appears to be driven by exposures where the intent of the patient was suicide,” the RADARS report found.
“Multiple factors may contribute to the observed increase in suspected suicide exposures. The increase may reflect overall increases in suicides in the United States. It may also be a result of increases in stimulant misuse.”
In the 2nd quarter of 2018, there were 822 reported cases of intentional exposure to stimulants among young people, while there were 503 cases involving opioid analgesics.