Covid-19 and drug overdose deaths push life expectancy to a 25-year low in the US

The twin crises, the Covid-19 pandemic and rising drug addiction and overdoses, are “a wake-up call” for the government, added Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “It’s clearly what’s affecting the health of our communities unlike almost anything we’ve seen before.”

People born in the US in 2021 can now expect to live to 76.4 years, wiping out an entire generation’s gains. 2019, the number was 78.8.

It’s a dramatic turnaround for the US, where life expectancy had been increasing since the turn of the 20th century. The upward trend has been steady for decades, fueled by advances in public health and medicine.

With the arrival of Covid in 2020, that reversed. The disease hit an overwhelmed U.S. health care system, and the CDC found death rates worsened in the second year of the pandemic. The number of Covid-19 deaths increased by almost 20 percent from 2020 to 2021 and was again the third leading cause of death – behind heart disease and cancer.

Although the number of deaths has fallen in 2022, many public health experts believe it could be much lower. The continued politicization of the US Covid response has negatively impacted many Americans’ decisions about vaccination and other mitigation efforts. About 14 percent of Americans and 36 percent of people age 65 and older have received the latest refresher, according to the CDC.

At the same time, Volkow believes the pandemic has spurred social changes that have made people more vulnerable to using drugs as an escape route. The pandemic also made it harder to get help. “Resources that could support people in the past were no longer available,” she said.

More than 106,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2021, a nearly 16 percent increase from 2020. Death rates from synthetic opioids — including fentanyl —, cocaine, and psychostimulants like methamphetamines all increased by more than 20 percent.

This comes on top of a 30 percent increase of drug overdose deaths in 2020.

Fatal drug overdose rates increased among almost all racial and ethnic groups, being highest among American Indians, Alaska Natives, and blacks.

The Biden administration is struggling to respond to developments in the deadly trade in fentanyl and other synthetic opioids and to expand access to treatment for drug use disorders.

A total of 3,464,231 deaths were recorded in the US in 2021 — 80,502 more than in 2020. Other leading causes of death included accidental injury, stroke, chronic lower respiratory tract disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, and kidney disease.

Post-Covid-19, the rates of people dying from unintentional injuries, which include drug overdoses, and liver disease and cirrhosis, most commonly caused by alcohol use, hepatitis, and complications from obesity and diabetes, increased the most.

Mortality rates have increased most among Native American or Alaskan Native women, followed by white men.

After two preliminary data The CDC reported in August that white life expectancy has fallen from 78.8 in 2019 to 76.4 in 2021.

As the data shows, American Indians and Alaska Natives now have a life expectancy of 65.2 years, compared to 71.8 years in 2019.

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