The government statistics paint a persistently grim picture of the nation’s health, notably as it is measured in a fundamental way — our plummeting, average life expectancy. But who wants to be another tragic bit of mortality data?
Can we resolve to stay healthier in the year ahead — especially by slashing the skyrocketing numbers of us who are dying on the roads and due to the opioid abuse and drug overdose crisis?
The coronavirus pandemic led to surges, too, in excess alcohol consumption, which only increased during the holiday festivities.
But social and health movements are afoot to encourage tipplers to taper or cut off their boozing in “Drynuary,” a time when some advocates suggest that those who drink should think carefully and be “intentional” about alcohol and substance use. As the New York Times reported:
“’Mindful drinking,’ a phrase and philosophy that brings the self-reflection of meditation to a glass of wine or beer, has become increasingly commonplace in recent years, said Rosamund Dean, a journalist in London who published a book based on the term in 2017. She wanted to become more intentional about her relationship to drinking, she said … ‘It was going to the work event where there was nasty, cheap white wine and knocking it back,’ or ‘putting the kids in bed after a busy day and cracking a bottle open,’ she said. ‘It’s the drinking you do without really thinking about it.’ Mindful drinking, by contrast, means ‘bringing awareness to your behaviors … for example, tallying how many cocktails you consume in a given night, or paying close attention to why, where and when you’re drawn to drinking. This moderation mind-set might particularly appeal to people searching for ways to scale back on troubling habits they developed during the pandemic.
“Studies have shown a dramatic increase in problematic drinking over the last year, especially among women. As the pandemic slogged on, ‘We had a real spike in people coming to us,’ said Millie Gooch, who founded the Sober Girl Society collective in 2018.”
It will be tougher to attack the opioid abuse and drug overdose crisis that hit deadly records in 2021, though officials have promised crackdowns on illicit drugs and pushes to make more accessible prescription medications that reverse opioid overdoses.
The urgency of the national battle against the opioid crisis has been underscored not only by its estimated 100,000 deaths in 2021, but also due to the rise of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that packs a wallop in even tiny doses. Criminals are tainting an array of street drugs, including marijuana, with deadly fentanyl and emergency personnel say they need more resources to help drug users put at fatal risk.
Even as federal drug enforcement efforts ramp up further against the opioid crisis, look for national, state, and local campaigns to battle the country’s spiking road deaths and injuries. The recent passage of the bipartisan, $1 trillion infrastructure bill will boost federal financial support for an array of road safety efforts. Motorists also may see these across the country as states and local governments (like Denver, Colo.) pass their own measures, and many of these enforcement or highway improvement measures typically take effect in the new year.
The pandemic has been the main contributor to a continuing, disconcerting plunge in Americans’ longevity, trimming it by a sizable average of almost two years. As the Washington Post reported:
“Life expectancy at birth fell to 77 years in 2020, a continued slide in a reliable gauge of Americans’ health as the coronavirus pandemic surged through the country… The average expected life span declined 1.8 years over 2019. That was up from July, when the Biden administration reported provisional results for 2020 that showed a 1.5-year drop. Death rates rose for every age group except children ages 1 to 14, with Covid-19 becoming the third-leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer, according to the report from the National Center for Health Statistics.
“Life expectancy had been ticking down in recent years, a troubling trend driven by drug overdose deaths and suicides. But the pandemic has caused much larger declines. The 1.8-year drop was the largest reduction in a single year in more than 75 years.”
Not good. In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage inflicted on them and their loved ones by dangerous drugs as well as by car, motorcycle, and truck wrecks.
Behavioral and safety experts have drawn direct lines from the profound disruptions caused by the pandemic — with its heightened isolation, loneliness, disillusionment, despair, and economic and social loss — and destructive trends in the opioid crisis, road deaths, and more. The glum global and national outlook also has manifested, opinion pollsters have found, in not only a declining U.S. birth rate but also in rising numbers of young people declaring they will forgo having children.
Here’s hoping that the new year, the Omicron variant notwithstanding, will be brighter and that our country turns around the pessimism and even seeping nihilism that now is all too common. We’re the wealthiest nation on the planet and, individually and collectively, we have much to be grateful for and to build on. We have much work to do to ensure that people in this country live the healthiest, longest, happiest, and most productive lives possible in 2022 and beyond.