The rapid and deadly spread of the Covid-19 virus along with a worsening drug epidemic have combined to shorten the expected lifespan of Americans.
Life Expectancy By the Numbers
Provisional figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that “In 2020, life expectancy at birth for the total U.S. population was 77.3 years, declining by 1.5 years” from 2019.
This is the biggest one-year decline since 1943 and, at 77.3 years, our life expectancy for 2020 is now equal to that of 2003.
The preliminary figures do not include a state-by-state breakdown, but the most recent estimates show West Virginia ranking at the bottom for life expectancy. CDC statistics released in March estimated the life expectancy for West Virginians born in 2018 at 74.4 years, the lowest in the nation.
2020 A Year of Question
Many of us spent 2020 wearing masks, getting vaccines, and working from home. But, even with many of us doing what we could, the pandemic persisted and mutated into the more aggressive Delta variant. This is causing trauma, loneliness, and an increase in behavioral health issues.
2020 should have been a year for improved life expectancy in this country. Mortality rates for cancer, respiratory diseases, heart disease, and suicide all declined. However, those gains were offset significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 is either the leading or underlying cause of over 385,000 deaths, making it the third leading cause of death in 2020 after heart disease and cancer.
The Rise in Drug Overdose Deaths
Drug overdose deaths rose dramatically in 2020. The CDC report attributes 93,331 deaths in 2020 to drug overdoses, up 30 percent from the year before. That is a stunning increase, but West Virginia’s overdose deaths were up even more.
West Virginia had 1,377 overdose deaths in 2020, up from 922 the previous year. That is sad to say, an increase of 49 percent.
“The pandemic amplified the epidemic of overdoses, bringing on social isolation, trauma and job losses, according to addiction experts and treatment providers.” – The Wall Street Journal
Something Else the Cause for Increasing Overdoses?
But Senator Mike Woelfel (D-Cabell), who is among the lawyers suing opioid distributors over the drug crisis, believes there is another significant reason—more money available to buy drugs.
“Last year was a very high year for overdoses, probably tied to the stimulus checks that freed up money for people to engage in this,” – Woelfel told MetroNews
The problem here and across the country was exacerbated by the increased availability and use of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more powerful than heroin. It is often mixed with other illicit drugs, leaving the user unaware of the potency.
NBC News reported last month that “Sources with the Drug Enforcement Administration tell NBC News that fentanyl is becoming the drug of choice for cartels because it is highly profitable, extremely potent and easier to smuggle into the U.S. because of its small size.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection continues to see a surge in fentanyl trafficking. “Seizures (of fentanyl) in the fiscal year 2021 through June are 78 percent higher than all of the fiscal year 2020.”
How to Help Those Struggling
Clearly, the United States, and worldwide, has a problem. With the increased stress and anxiety related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the easier access to dangerous drugs, and increased depression in mental health are contributing to the problem. The best thing you can do is reach out to those you love and make sure they are doing okay through all of this. If you feel there may be a problem, there are resources for you to help your loved ones get help.
SAMSHA has a national helpline for addiction.
American Addiction Centers has some suggestions for helping an addict.
We wish everyone the best through all of this, and look forward to happier and healthier days.