Life expectancy rates dropping for first time in decades


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – For the first time in more than 20 years, Americans aren’t expected to live as long as they have been. Health professionals are saying there’s a direct correlation between the drop in life expectancy rates and the opioid epidemic.

“People who take opioid medication are at risk of overdose,” said Dr. Gale Burstein, the Erie County Health Commissioner.

Dr. Burstein says, sadly, that’s happening to many people who use the pain medicines; saying 90% of the overdose deaths reported are accidental. The health commissioner says there’s an increase in the number of deaths as well.  Nationally, 16 out of 100,000 people die from overdoses which is up from 6 out of 100,000 just a few years ago. And, locally, in Erie County, one fatal overdose is happening each day.

“It’s hitting everywhere,” said the health commissioner. “We see it everywhere in Erie County – every socioeconomic status, town village, even rural areas. There’s no place that’s immune to this.”

And the commissioner says that’s impacting how long Americans are expected to live now, too. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the average overall life expectancy is now 78.8 years, down from 78.9 years when this was previously evaluated in 2014. While it’s only equivalent to about a month, it is the first decrease in life expectancy since 1993.

“I am worried that the drug overdoses will keep pulling down our live expectancy in the wrong direction.”

Aside from opioid overdoses, there has been an increase in deaths linked to Alzheimer’s disease and suicide, as well. The JAMA report showing there’s been gains for some illnesses – the life expectancy increasing for those diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Burstein says evaluating life expectancy is helpful when providing healthcare and allocating resources.

“It gives an objective measure and number to gauge where we are, overall, with our nation’s health.”

She feels this report shows there needs to be more progress in addressing mental health illnesses like addiction and depression.

“These are chronic diseases and we have to beat the stigma to get these people help.”

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