The U.S. life expectancy fell in 2016 for this tragic reason

Overall life expectancy in the U.S. dropped last year as the number of deaths from opioid overdose surged, according to a December 21st report from the Center for Disease Control.

Last year was the second year in a row that American life expectancy decreased due to drug use. In 2016, 63,000 people died of drug overdose, a 21 percent increase from 2015. And deaths related to opioid consumption increased by 28 percent. A total of 42,249 people, most of whom were between 24 and 54 years old, died from overdosing on this class of drugs. The overall drop in life expectancy, however, was small  — a decrease of 0.1 years, making average life expectancy 78.6 years.

Drug overdose deaths increased at a rate of three percent each year from 2006 to 2014, so the jump in 2016 is alarming.

Opioids are a class of drugs including heroin, morphine, codeine, and oxycodone. The rate of death from synthetic opioids in particular doubled from 2015 to 2016. Synthetic opioids include tramadol and fentanyl, which are both used as pain medications.

Opioid overdose now claims more lives than breast cancer, which kills about 41,000 people each year. Though the CDC hasn’t released its final data for 2017 yet, provisional data estimates that 66,000 people died of overdose this year.

President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October, creating a commission to issue recommendations on ways to combat the epidemic. But critics say that Trump has done little to help end opioid addiction, citing his failure to request funds to help combat this problem. But Trump has also championed the Republican tax bill, which passed on December 20th and could result in cuts to Medicaid. Currently, about a quarter of drug abuse treatments are funded through the health care program.

With so many people dying of opioid overdose, it’s clear we need to address the opioid epidemic now. Drug addiction is an illness, and it needs to be treated like one rather than stigmatized as a moral failing. We need to take this crisis seriously and work to stop it before it’s too late.