Suicides and Drugs Cut U.S. Life Expectancy

This member-only article appears in the February issue of Patient Safety Monitor Journal.

It’s not news to most providers that suicide and drug abuse are on the rise. However, a trio of reports from the CDC have shed light on the extent of the problem.

In 2017, American life expectancy dropped for the third year in a row, with the main culprits of the decline being drug overdoses and suicides. There was a grand total of 2.8 million deaths that year—69,000 more than in 2016 and breaking the U.S. record for most deaths in one year. Of those deaths, 70,237 were drug overdoses and 47,000 were suicides.

The research shows that a baby born in 2017 had 1.2 months shaved off its life expectancy compared to one born the year before (78.6 years from 78.7).

In the short term, the research suggests current efforts to combat suicide and drug overdose problems have yet to bear fruit. Providers, therefore, should expect to treat even more drug abuse and self-harm injuries in upcoming years.

This information was published in three November 28, 2018 CDC reports: one on suicide mortality, one on drug overdose deaths, and one on mortality overall.

“Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” CDC director Robert Redfield, MD, said in a public statement.

Drug overdoses
The spike in drug addiction and deaths has been rapid and devastating for many. Drug overdose deaths have increased 16% per year since 2014, says the CDC. And between 2016 and 2017, that number grew 9.6%, to 21.7 deaths per 100,000. So far, 20 states and the District of Columbia have overdose death rates higher than the national average, and eight have rates comparable to the national average. Some statistics about overdoses in the United States:
The rate of drug overdose deaths in 2017 was 21.7 per 100,000. That’s 3.6 times what it was in 1999 (6.1).
While drug use increased in all age groups, overdose rates were much higher for those ages 25–34 (38.4 per 100,000), 35–44 (39.0), and 45–54 (37.7).
Men are more likely to die of an overdose than women.
The number of drug overdoses caused by synthetic opioids increased 45% between 2016 and 2017.

Raise the bar on pain management and opioids
Opioids: What do healthcare professionals want and need to know?
Hospital Toolkit—Addiction Policy Forum
American Hospital Association’s Addressing the Opioid Epidemic—Resources

As we’ve written about before, suicide has been the 10th leading cause of death since 2008, with suicide rates on the rise. There’s no single identifiable cause for the increase, though some suggest better reporting, a lack of accessible mental healthcare, economic stresses, and social isolation have played a role.

CMS and other healthcare organizations have made efforts in recent years to reduce ligature risks and patient suicides, including new requirements, resources, and training. In November 2018, The Joint Commission released a new R3 report on improving suicide care.

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