New data shows Americans are dying younger because of suicide, drug abuse |

New data shows Americans are dying younger because of suicide, drug abuse

America is seeing the longest sustained decline in life expectancy since World War I, as suicides and drug overdoses continue to rise.

Summit County has become famous for having the highest life expectancy in America. Yet it seems Summit is at the top of a slowly eroding mountain, as a recent CDC report revealed a decline in American life expectancy for the third consecutive year — the longest such trend in the U.S. since World War I.

Even more alarming is the fact that rising rates of suicide and drug overdoses — two of the most pressing public health concerns in Summit — are the main drivers of the decline. Suicides reached a 50-year high in 2017, while overdose deaths topped 70,000 for the first time.

The year-after-year data shows that the average American life expectancy dropped from 78.7 in 2016 to 78.6 in 2017. While that might not seem like a lot, it translates to 70,000 more deaths from the year before. In total, 2.8 million Americans died in 2017, the most in a single year since the government started keeping records over a century ago.

The 25 to 34 age group, or “Generation Y,” saw the steepest increase in deaths of all age groups at a 2.9 percent increased death rate, followed by the 35 to 44 age group at 1.6 percent. Yet, as another example of shifts in generational fortunes, 45- to 54-year-olds actually saw a slight decrease in their death rate.

“Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” said CDC director Robert Redfield in a statement to the media.

Summit County has recorded 10 suicides this year, near the record 13 suicides committed in 2016 when the county had one of the highest suicide rates in the country. Suicide continues to be the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24, and Colorado’s suicide rate for the past year is among the top 10 highest in the country. In 2017, 1,175 Coloradans committed suicide while 959 perished from drug overdoses; both the most for a single year in state history.

Summit has devoted more resources to suicide prevention and mental health care over the years. Last month, Summit voters approved Ballot Initiative 1A, which will devote $2 million a year toward mental health and suicide prevention services, including a “crisis response team” to improve law enforcement responses to mental health crises, as well as to help local suicide prevention and mental health access nonprofit, Building Hope, fund critical programs needed to properly address the suicide crisis.

When it comes to overdoses, opiates continue to fuel the tragic state and national epidemic, while methamphetamine overdoses are also seeing a marked increase in Colorado. Bruce Brown, District Attorney for the ninth judicial district, said earlier this year that drug abuse is a critical problem in Summit.

“I think it’s off the charts,” Brown said. “We’re a community that has a large population who are addicted to drugs.”

Brown has vowed to crack down on the source of many of these overdoses — drug dealers. In October, local dealer Dennis Tierney was sentenced to three years in prison for criminally negligent homicide after the overdose death of 32-year-old James Nicholas in Breckenridge back in February. Tierney had sold the lethal fentanyl-heroin cocktail that killed Nicholas.

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, help is available. You can call Mind Springs Health’s crisis line at 1-888-207-400, or call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you believe you have a substance abuse problem, call the Colorado drug abuse hotline at 1-855-789-9197.

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