The U.S. is Losing a City Every Year to Drug and Alcohol Addiction
If a natural disaster wiped a U.S. city off the map each year, the entire nation would rise to the challenge, would work together to demand such tragedies be averted. Sadly, this is exactly what is occurring with drug and alcohol-related deaths, yet the crisis is not treated with near the urgency needed to overcome it.
Drug and alcohol-related deaths have continued to climb, year over year, building to epidemic-level proportions with nearly 200,000 annual fatalities. But still, public pressure has not risen to meet the dire need of millions of addicts who face life-or-death risks every day.
The Hard Facts
There is no shortage of factual data on America’s addiction epidemic. To start, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes annual findings on drug-related deaths, giving public health officials, policymakers, and the American public a clear picture of the addiction epidemic and the overdoses caused by it.
According to the CDC data for March 2020 to March 2021, the provisional death count from overdoses is at 96,779 total fatalities for that period. But the CDC says their final count will likely be more than 99,000 deaths. This is because 20% of the total deaths they have to analyze are still pending investigation.
The 96,779 death toll (the conservative number) reflects a 29.6% rise from March 2019 to March 2020. If the death toll does top 99,000 as the CDC predicts it will, that terrible loss of life will reflect a more than 30% spike in overdoses in just one year.
Not only is this the highest death toll from drug overdoses in any given year since recording began, it’s also the sharpest spike in deaths from one year to the next. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the underlying effects it had on the nation’s most disadvantaged (including drug addicts), certainly played a role in the fatal overdose spike. But the surge in deaths from 2019 through 2020 is simply following an already existing trend, a steady, year-over-year increase in drug-related deaths that’s been present since 1999.
But it’s not just drug-related deaths that are soaring in number. Alcohol-related deaths are also on the rise. Just as the CDC updated its findings on drug-related deaths for 2020, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism also recently updated its data on alcohol-related deaths. For most of the 21st century, the NIAAA had estimated that about 88,000 Americans were dying from alcohol-related causes each year. But recently, the NIAAA changed their estimates to at least 95,000 annual deaths from alcohol.
When data for drug-related deaths and alcohol-related deaths are combined, one can see that approximately 190,000-195,000 Americans are dying from drugs and alcohol every year, the equivalent of a large U.S. city. And if trends continue, it will not be long before the U.S. loses a quarter-million residents to substance abuse fatalities each year.
While everyone knows that drug and alcohol deaths are tragic, it hasn’t quite set in just how prevalent these deaths have become, that what amounts to the population of a large American city is being wiped off the map from substance abuse each year. Day-to-day, the drug and alcohol-related loss of life comes in at over 500 deaths per day, as if two full-sized commercial jet planes were falling out of the sky every day, no survivors, or as if a large urban train were derailing every day, no survivors.
A Loss in Life Expectancy
So many people are dying from drugs and alcohol that the epidemic of addiction has contributed to a significant drop in American life expectancy. In 2019, life expectancy at birth for the total U.S. population was 78.8 years. But by 2020, that figure had dropped to 77.8 years, a 1.2-year loss in expectancy for men and a 0.9-year loss for women. Not only is it extremely rare that American life expectancy drops at all, but such a dramatic loss in life expectancy (an entire year) has not occurred since the early-20th century during the Spanish Influenza and World War I.
“If you’ll recall, in recent pre-pandemic years there were slight drops in life expectancy due in part to the rise in overdose deaths. Again, the COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly contributed to excess fatalities in 2020, but drug and alcohol-related fatalities also impacted reduced life expectancy...”
From Jeff Lancashire, a spokesperson for the National Center for Health Statistics, “If you’ll recall, in recent pre-pandemic years there were slight drops in life expectancy due in part to the rise in overdose deaths. Again, the COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly contributed to excess fatalities in 2020, but drug and alcohol-related fatalities also impacted reduced life expectancy. So they are likely contributing here as well but we don’t know to what degree.”
More Than Loss of Life; The Far-Reaching Consequences of an Addiction Epidemic
The sheer loss of life is undoubtedly the most critical factor in America’s addiction epidemic. But other factors indicate just how harmful this crisis is. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, substance abuse costs the nation over $600 billion each year, from health costs to societal costs, loss of workplace productivity, criminal justice costs, property losses, and collateral damage.
And beyond the financial costs of addiction, there is a tremendous cost to families; the families of addicts who died, and the families of addicts who are still alive but who are constantly at risk for an overdose. For every addict, of which the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates there are about 20 million, there are several family members who struggle to get their loved one help. That means at least one-third of the U.S. population is in some way affected by the addiction epidemic.
Where to Go From Here
Drug and alcohol addiction is a fatal affliction that requires treatment as soon as possible. Addiction does not go away on its own. Though U.S. policymakers may be compelled to implement harm reduction strategies to halt the skyrocketing loss of life due to overdoses, only residential addiction treatment programs can help free people from this life-or-death crisis.
If you have a family member or loved one who is using drugs and alcohol and cannot stop, please help them enter a treatment center as soon as possible. Don’t let your loved one contribute to the rising statistics of addiction-related deaths in America. Contact a qualified drug treatment center today.