A decline in drug-related overdose deaths caused the US life expectancy rate to increase in 2018, says analytics company GlobalData.

Epidemiologists from the firm believe an opioid epidemic in America was the reason life expectancy initially decreased between 2014 and 2017.

But 2018 saw the overall number of drug-related deaths decline — the first time this has happened for more than a decade in the US.

Topias Lemetyinen, managing epidemiologist at GlobalData, said this contributed to the recently announced life expectancy increase in the US — from 78.6 years to 78.7 years since 2017. 

He added: “GlobalData epidemiologists identified that opioid abuse accounted for a large proportion of drug-related deaths, with more than 47,000 directly attributable to this drug classification.

“This was of great concern, as GlobalData research revealed that nearly 4.5 million people in the US were classified with opioid-use disorder in 2018.

“However, in 2018, there was a decline in overall drug-related overdose deaths in the US for the first time in over a decade — which may in itself attribute for the increase in the nation’s overall life expectancy.

“If this trend continues and drug-related deaths continue to decline, the US could see further improvements in overall life expectancy in the coming years.”


History of US life expectancy rate

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that life expectancy at birth in America had risen for the first time since 2014 — increasing from 78.6 years in 2017 to 78.7 years in 2018.

According to GlobalData, the life expectancy rate in the US had increased steadily throughout the 21st century, rising from 76.8 years in 2000 to an all-time peak of 78.9 years in 2014.

us life expectancy rate history
The US life expectancy rate at birth between 2000 and 2018 (Credit: GlobalData/CDC)

However, an opioid epidemic swept across the country around the same time, leading to more addiction to, and overdoses from, painkilling drugs.

This lowered the US life expectancy rate each year between 2014 and 2017, and it wasn’t until the number of opioid-related deaths began to decline in 2018, that this number stopped falling.

Despite this, life expectancy in America is still considerably lower than in any of the five major European markets (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK), all of which stood at more than 80 years in 2016 according to GlobalData.