Financial Chronicle - - EDIT, OPED, THE WORKS - KU­RUVILLA PANDIKATTU (The writer is pro­fes­sor of sci­ence and re­li­gion and au­thor of Be­tween Be­fore and Be­yond!)

FOR the third year in a row, Amer­i­can life ex­pectancy has dropped. An Amer­i­can born in 2017 will live for an av­er­age of 78.6 years, down from 78.7 years in 2016, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral data re­leased in Novem­ber 2018. One of the main rea­sons for it is the opi­oid-over­dose.

The small drop in life ex­pectancy be­tween 2016 and 2017 oc­curred in tan­dem with sky­rock­et­ing over­dose deaths due to the opi­oid cri­sis and a ris­ing num­ber of sui­cides. In fact, the over­all mor­tal­ity rate of the United States also in­creased in 2017: 732 deaths per 100,000 peo­ple, up from 729 deaths in 2016.

Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC), USA, which pub­lished the data, this is the first time in at least a cen­tury that life ex­pectancy has dropped three years in a row, writes Olivia Exstrum, ed­i­to­rial fel­low at Mother Jones in San Fran­cisco. Drug over­doses killed 70,200 peo­ple in 2017, up 10 per­cent from 2016. “Un­in­ten­tional in­juries,” which in­cludes drug over­doses, were the third-lead­ing cause of death in 2017, only trail­ing heart dis­ease and can­cer. Be­tween 2015 and 2016, drug over­dose deaths rose by a whop­ping 21 per­cent. West Vir­ginia, Ohio, and Penn­syl­va­nia led the pack for states with the most over­doses.

Of the type of drugs used in over­dose deaths (the ma­jor­ity of which, the CDC notes, are ac­ci­den­tal), syn­thetic opi­oids — like fen­tanyl, which is 50 times more pow­er­ful than heroin — were the most com­mon by far, caus­ing nine over­dose deaths per ev­ery 100,000 peo­ple, com­pared with just five deaths for heroin, the sec­ond-most com­mon opi­oid.

The use of syn­thetic opi­oids in over­dose deaths jumped by 45 per­cent be­tween 2016 and 2017. (These num­bers only re­fer to over­dose deaths in which at least one drug was iden­ti­fied as be­ing in­volved.)

The sui­cide rate also rose by 4 per­cent in 2017, in line with steady in­creases in re­cent years, to 47,2000 peo­ple, notes Exstrum.

Al­though over­dose deaths in­creased in 2017, the leaps weren’t nearly as dra­matic as those in 2016, sug­gest­ing that the opi­oid cri­sis may be slow­ing down. That’s the con­clu­sion some cau­tiously hope­ful ex­perts drew fol­low­ing the Au­gust re­lease of pro­jected 2017 data, which largely line up with the of­fi­cial num­bers re­leased in Novem­ber 2018. None­the­less, the use of syn­thetic opi­oids like fen­tanyl con­tin­ues to sky­rocket.

While the opi­oid epi­demic was catal­ysed by decades of overzeal­ous phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal lob­by­ing and lib­eral painkiller pre­scrib­ing, a grow­ing body of re­search also points to so­cioe­co­nomic fac­tors, in­clud­ing a lack of so­cial cap­i­tal, eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity, and ac­cess to health care. It fits into the larger trend of so-called “deaths of de­s­pair” from al­co­hol, sui­cide, or drugs.

It is a very sad state of af­fairs that the in de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing coun­tries the use of opoids and the cor­re­spond­ing num­ber of deaths are in­creas­ing. We surely need to fo­cus on the so­cial cap­i­tal as Olivia Exstrum ad­vo­cates. Can we also fo­cus on the deeper and spir­i­tual di­men­sions of hu­man ex­is­tence?

We do need some­thing deeper to hold on to. We need some mean­ing to live for. We need some­one we can trust fully, we can rely on to­tally. We need some­one who will un­der­stand us and ac­cept us un­con­di­tion­ally.

In the world of cut­throat com­pe­ti­tion, that may be dif­fi­cult to come by. Still we can­not af­ford to give up. The fu­ture of our youth and that of our world is at stake.

There­fore, one im­por­tant means we can take is to help then recog­nise their spir­i­tual roots. With­out ab­so­lutis­ing the hold of re­li­gion, we can still in­vite the youth to have a deep and mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ship with one an­other and with the Di­vine. Such an en­dur­ing and authen­tic re­la­tion­ship can be part of the so­lu­tion.

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