The national opioid epidemic, which is expected to claim more than 70,000 lives this year, is knocking months off the life expectancy rates for adults.
Health officials have long suspected opioid abuse bears primary responsibility for declines in U.S. life expectancy, a trend that began in 2015 following roughly two decades of increases. Research published Tuesday in the medical journal JAMA reveals the extent of the damage done by opioids, including both prescription painkillers and illicit substances like heroin, reports CNN.
Scientists found opioid abuse is shortening the lifespans of adults by roughly 2.5 months, reversing the progress made by reductions in the death rates of conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Average life expectancy dropped in 2015 for the first time since 1993, reducing average longevity in the U.S. to 78.8 years, a decrease of 0.1 years, which researchers call statistically significant.
Life expectancy in the U.S. previously rose by 2.5 years between 2000 and 2014, before the full effects of the opioid crisis were felt across the country.
President Donald Trump’s opioid commission, led by Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, announced Monday a new partnership with the pharmaceutical industry in hopes to accelerate the development of alternative painkillers to curb addiction. Seventeen of the major drug makers in the U.S. have agreed to share roughly 40 different compounds with each other that they hope will lead to the creation of a non-opioid pain medication.
The companies will work in concert with the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration on the efforts.
Trump created the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis through an executive order March 29 and tapped Christie to lead the efforts. In an interim report given to Trump July 31, the commission implored him to declare the crisis a national emergency, noting that “with approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks.”
“Can you imagine this country putting up with 17 9/11s every year?” Christie said Monday. “It’s unacceptable.”
Despite the recommendation and statements from Trump calling the opioid crisis a national emergency, the White House has not made any formal emergency declaration, sparking criticism from addiction advocates.
A recent investigation by STAT predicts the annual death toll from opioids will rise by roughly 35 percent between 2015 and 2027. Their analysis predicts up to 500,000 people could die from opioids over the next decade. The experts agree, even in a best-case scenario, the crisis will not visibly start to subside until after 2020.