Opioid Overdoses Biggest Cause of Decreasing Life Expectancy

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Deborah Dowell, MD MPH
Senior Medical Advisor
Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Increases in U.S. life expectancy at birth have leveled off from an average of 0.20 years gained per year from 1970 to 2000 to 0.15 years gained per year from 2000 to 2014. U.S. life expectancy decreased from 2014 to 2015 and is now lower than in most high-income countries, with this gap projected to increase.
Drug poisoning (overdose) death rates more than doubled in the United States from 2000-2015; those involving opioids more than tripled. Increases in poisoning have been reported to have reduced life expectancy for non-Hispanic white Americans from 2000-2014. Specific contributions of drug, opioid, and alcohol poisoning to changes in U.S. life expectancy since 2000 were unknown.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Response: Among the 12 leading causes of death in 2015, 5 causes led to a decrease in life expectancy from 2000-2015: unintentional injuries (including overdoses/poisonings), Alzheimer’s disease, suicide, liver disease, and septicemia. Together, increases in death from these causes took away 4 months of life expectancy per American. Most of the 4 months’ life expectancy lost from leading causes of death during this period was accounted for by drug and alcohol poisoning (3.5 months) and in particular from opioids (2.5 months).

MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Preventing opioid-related overdose deaths will be important to achieving more robust increases in life expectancy once again.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We need to determine what interventions work to prevent unnecessary opioid use and to prevent opioid overdose.

MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.


Dowell D, Arias E, Kochanek K, Anderson R, Guy GP, Losby JL, Baldwin G. Contribution of Opioid-Involved Poisoning to the Change in Life Expectancy in the United States, 2000-2015. JAMA. 2017;318(11):1065–1067. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.9308

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.


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Last Updated on September 19, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD