Just how bad is the drug crisis? A new study finds that when all direct and indirect harms of drug use are factored in, the real number of drug-related fatalities in 2016 was 141,695, 2.2 times the official tally of drug-coded deaths (63,600) published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The study, funded by the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown University, found that by examining the increase in midlife mortality relative to the expected baseline decrease that should have continued between 2010 and 2016, one can conclude that 141,695 people aged 15-65 lost their lives early in 2016 due to drug use.
“In the absence of drug use, we estimate that the probability of dying between ages 15 and 65 would have continued to decline after 2010 among men (from 16.2% in 2010 to 15.4% in 2016) and would have remained at a low level (9.9% in 2010, 10.0% in 2016) among women,” write co-authors Dana A. Glei and Samuel H. Preston. Glei and Preston are both professors of sociology and demography at Princeton University who have written extensively about mortality trends.
While the CDC estimates 63,000 drug fatalities in 2016, those are the people found dead as the result of an immediate drug overdose, as reported by state toxicology reports. Glei and Preston write that “in addition to its direct effect on deaths from poisoning, drug use may inflate mortality resulting from infectious diseases, respiratory diseases, external causes, mental/behavioral disorders, digestive diseases, circulatory diseases, and neoplasms.” Suicide is also a big factor in many deaths that are not reported as drug-related but are indirectly caused by drug addiction.
The impetus for studying decreased life expectancy as a whole, rather than limiting the scope of research on drug deaths to toxicology reports on drug poisoning, stems from the shockingly sad government and private reports showing life expectancy sliding backward in recent years due to the drug crisis. According to a 2018 report by the National Center for Health Statistics, life expectancy declined from 78.9 years for those born in 2014 to 78.7 years in 2015, then decreased again between 2016 and 2017 to the current 78.6 years. That is simply astounding given the advancement of medical technology. It’s the first time life expectancy rates have declined since the outbreak of the influenza epidemic during World War I.
In addition to drug poisoning deaths skyrocketing, deaths due to suicide and liver disease are also on the rise, which lends credence to the premise that the rising tide of drug addiction is likely increasing other illnesses and suicide. Rises in midlife mortality rates, according to Reuters, were most acute in New Hampshire, 23.3%; West Virginia, 23.0%; Ohio, 21.6%; Maine, 20.7%; Vermont; 19.9%, Indiana; 14.8% and Kentucky, 14.7%; These are all states that top the list of drug overdose crisis states.
Using elaborate statistical modeling, the authors of this new study conclude: “In terms of life expectancy beyond age 15, we estimate that drug use cost men 1.4 years and women 0.7 years, on average. In the hardest-hit state (West Virginia), drug use cost men 3.6 and women 1.9 life years.”