The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opioid epidemic is deadlier than the Vietnam War in ’68, study says

Slightly less than 1 percent of all Americans who died in 1968 lost their lives while serving in the Vietnam War. Yet even the toll of that conflict’s bloodiest year was less significant than that being caused by the opioid epidemic. According to new research, 1.5 percent of all American deaths in 2016 were attributable to opioids.

Young adults are being hit particularly hard by opioids, which now account for 1 of every 5 deaths of Americans age 25 to 34. Tara Gomes of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, who led the research, emphasized the “immense contribution of opioid deaths to overall mortality among young adults, and the burden that this will have on society today, and into the future.”

Because of its disproportionate impact on the young, the opioid epidemic robs Americans of more years of life than do prevalent late-life conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and prostate cancer. According to research by Gomes and colleagues, the opioid epidemic resulted in almost 1.7 million years of lost life across the U.S. population in 2016.

Gomes’s research relied on Center for Disease Control and Prevention data, which is known to underestimate opioid overdoses by 20 to 30 percent (Wonkblog coverage here). Her team’s findings thus represent a conservative estimate of the horrific impact of the opioid epidemic.