Life expectancy drops by almost 2 years in US

COVID-19, accidental overdose deaths play a big part in decline in all 50 states, including Ohio.

Life expectancy has gone down in all 50 states, driven mainly by COVID-19 and deaths related to the opioid epidemic, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.

A report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics published Tuesday revealed from 2019 to 2020, life expectancy declined in the U.S. to 77 years from 78.8. Ohio’s life expectancy decreased by more than a year and a half. In 2019, the life expectancy in Ohio was 76.9 years. In 2020, it dropped to 75.3 years.

Nationally among the 50 states and D.C., Hawaii had the highest life expectancy at birth of 80.7 years in 2020, and Mississippi had the lowest at 71.9 years. Hawaii saw the smallest decline from 2019 to 2020 with a change of 0.2 years, and the state of New York declined by 3.0 years to 77.7 years.

Causes for this decline were linked to the COVID-19 pandemic as deaths related to COVID in the U.S. are currently over 1.04 million since the pandemic hit the U.S. in 2020. The CDC also cited deaths related to the opioid epidemic and other drug use. According to the CDC, drug overdose deaths in the U.S. exceed 100,000 annually.

Minorities are hardest hit

Dr. Roberto Colon, chief medical officer of Miami Valley Hospital, said the CDC’s latest report on life expectancy is similar to data on life expectancy other scientific journals have put out, like the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). JAMA released a study in April looking at how the U.S. life expectancy changed between 2019 and 2020, finding that Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black populations within the U.S. were disproportionately affected.

JAMA’s study found the U.S. life expectancy decreased by 1.87 years overall, and by 3.70 years in Hispanic populations and 3.22 years in non-Hispanic Black populations.

“We need to change our approach to health care,” Colon said, explaining the industry needs to address social determinants of health in how health care is delivered.

Additionally, the U.S. did not match with other similar wealthy nations. The JAMA study stated the decrease in life expectancy in peer countries was a mean of 0.58 years, with no country experiencing a decrease similar to that of the US.

“We fell off more than our peer countries did,” Colon said.

Colon said one of the indirect impacts of the COVID pandemic was how people put off routine health care and checkups. Delaying cancer treatments or cancer diagnoses can have “tremendous impacts” on the outcomes of those illnesses, he said.

Drug overdoses seeing a decline locally

Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) officials said locally deaths related to opioid and other drug use are on the decline, but COVID still remains a concern.

“The good news is overdose deaths are down 18.7% in Montgomery County,” said Tina Rezash Rogal, ADAMHS director of strategic initiatives and communications.

“COVID is still impacting our community in a big way,” Rogal said. So far this year, Montgomery County has experienced approximately 457 deaths related to COVID, which is up 7% from the same time period in 2021, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health.

The county has also had approximately 184 drug overdose deaths so far in 2022, according to data from COAT. Last year in Montgomery County, there were 337 accidental overdose deaths, an increase from 323 the year before.

“So while overdose deaths are trending downward ... we’re seeing a slight increase in COVID deaths still in Montgomery County,” Rogal said.

Rogal, in looking at COVID data for Montgomery County, said 2020 was a difficult year. In addition to the pandemic, people became isolated due to lockdowns, so people who abused opioids or other substances were doing so alone, with no one to help if there was an overdose.

“If an overdose situation was happening, no one was there to call for help, no one was there to administer Narcan,” Rogal said. “People were dying in their homes alone more than ever before.”

Rogal encouraged individuals to get updated on their vaccinations and pay attention to the ongoing pandemic, saying the COVID-related deaths are having more of an impact on life expectancy rates than drug overdose deaths.

Deaths by suicide also a concern

Suicide was the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2020, and Rogal said locally there has been a slight increase in deaths by suicide. According to the CDC, over 45,900 people died by suicide in 2020 nationwide, almost double the number of homicides in 2020, which accounted for approximately 24,576 deaths.

“We are continuing to see in our community a slight increase in death by suicide, and we’re seeing a small spike in those who are 55-plus,” Rogal said.

She encouraged people to utilize Montgomery County ADAMHS’ Crisis Now hotline, which is 833-580-CALL (2255), if they are experiencing suicidal ideation.

“That Crisis Now hotline, while it deals with the full scope of mental health substance use disorders, its primary focus is folks who are experiencing suicidal ideation and helping those who feel the despair of two and a half years into COVID now,” Rogal said. “Many people have lost friends and family members, and they just become overcome with grief.”

She encouraged people to use that hotline if they are in need, saying they are getting approximately 900 calls a month to that hotline.

Top 5 states with the worst life expectancy include:

  1. Mississippi: 71.9 years.
  2. West Virginia: 72.8 years.
  3. Louisiana: 73.1 years.
  4. Alabama: 73.2 years.
  5. Kentucky: 73.5 years.

12. Ohio: 75.3 years

Source: National Center for Health Statistics

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