YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – For the second year in a row, the opioid epidemic lowered the life expectancy for people across America in 2016.
Ohio is tied for second place with New Hampshire for the number of overdoses – about 39 in every 100,000 people. West Virginia is in first place at 52.
Thanks to improvements in medicine, treatments and care, Americans have enjoyed a steady increase in their life expectancy in the last century. In just the last 50 years, Americans have added nearly a decade to their lives.
Despite the medical improvements and increased age, a looming problem still lingers. Opioids are killing people at younger ages than ever before.
Brant Bolen started taking painkillers when he was 16 years old. At 19, he injected himself with heroin for the first time. It was the beginning of an 8-year-long addiction that ultimately landed him in prison.
“For eight years of my life, all I wanted to do is die. I knew every six to eight hours I had to inject myself or else I would be deathly sick or I couldn’t function as a normal human,” Bolen said.
Bolen ended up at the Ohio Valley Adult and Teen Challenge Center for rehabilitation and now working there helping others, sharing his story with other young people.
“I talk about drug prevention and share my mistakes and try to let people learn from the things that I’ve done,” Bolen said.
In 2016, 63,000 people died from drug overdoses, up 21 percent from the year before. The numbers dropped the life expectancy in the United States for the second year in a row.
The last time the U.S. had a three-year decline was in 1918 during the Influenza pandemic.
HopeAnne Lovrinoff-Moran works for OhioCAN (or Change Addiction Now). Her work sees not just young people in their 20s and 30s but also those in their 40s and 50s.
“We really have to be honest with ourselves. We have to put away the stigma,” Lovrinoff said. “We lost the war on drugs. As long as there is demand, there is supply.”
Lovrinoff-Moran and Bolen think the problem needs to be looked at more long term. The treatment programs that last one to three months are simply not enough for people to fully recover.
“It may take 12 to 16 months for your brain to repair itself to make a good decision again,” Bolen said.
Both want more education in school but say they know it will be a while before any real change can be made.