Drug Overdoses Push American Life Expectancy To 25-Year Low

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report on Thursday showing that American life expectancy declined in 2021 to its lowest point in 25 years. The 107,000 Americans who died prematurely from drug overdoses last year were a leading cause of the decline.

The overall U.S. life expectancy in 2021 fell to 76.4 years. It was 77 years in 2020 and 78.8 years in 2019. Total life expectancy has not been as low as last year since 1996, when it was 76.1 years.

In addition to drug overdoses, the CDC attributed COVID-19 with much of the cause of last year’s decline. The number of deaths caused by drug overdoses surged to unprecedented levels during the pandemic-related lockdowns over much of the previous two years.

The CDC said that heart disease was the leading cause of death in the U.S. last year. Cancer was the second-leading cause, followed by COVID-19. Deaths attributed to the coronavirus in 2021 were 104.1 fatal cases per 100,000 people. That was up from 85.0 in 2020.

Meanwhile, influenza and pneumonia deaths fell in 2021 as the country experienced a mild flu season.

Accident-related fatalities ranked as the fourth-leading cause of death. Drug overdoses were indicated in more than one-third of accidental deaths. From 2020 to 2021, drug overdose deaths rose by almost 16%, jumping from almost 92,000 to nearly 107,000.

National Institute on Drug Abuse director Dr. Nora Volkow told reporters that she agrees with the conclusion that increased COVID-19 and drug overdose deaths were the primary factors causing the drop in life expectancy.

Volkow said, “The pandemic had a magnifying effect on an already-devastating overdose crisis and exacerbated many of the stressors in society that make people more vulnerable to taking drugs.”

The CDC data shows that the most dramatic increase in drug-related deaths came from fatal overdoses of synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Those deaths went up in a single year by 22%, while heroin-related deaths fell by 32%. Deaths caused by cocaine and methamphetamine overdoses also increased in 2021.

Volkow added that drug abuse has become more hazardous to Americans’ health than ever as “fentanyl has continued to permeate the illicit drug supply, increasing the risk for overdoses among both people with substance use disorders as well as those who use drugs occasionally.”