Death rates soar for Americans under 40; new report blames fentanyl

Death rates among Americans under 40 are skyrocketing, with a new report pointing the finger squarely at fentanyl. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paints a grim picture of American life expectancy, which has plummeted to its lowest point in nearly two decades. While COVID-19 certainly plays a role, it’s drug overdoses, particularly those involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl, that stand out as the primary culprits.

A deep dive into the opioid crisis by Stateline reveals a disturbing trend: Death rates in the under-40 age group surged by almost a third between 2018 and 2021, and they remained 21% higher in 2022. Accidental overdoses have now become the leading cause of death for those under 40 in 37 states.

Daliah Heller, Vice President of Drug Use Initiatives at Vital Strategies, sheds light on the origins of this crisis. In the Stateline report, Heller points out that prescription opioids triggered a significant increase in substance abuse from 2000 to 2016. However, as government and healthcare agencies began cracking down on prescription opioids, individuals grappling with substance use disorder turned to heroin, synthetic opioids, and fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin and often more affordable.

As Emily’s Hope previously reported, many people don’t know that they’re taking a drug laced with fentanyl, until they overdose or die. The CDC issued an alert last week warning that drug overdose deaths involving counterfeit pills have doubled. 

“The proliferation of counterfeit pills, which are not manufactured by pharmaceutical companies, but are typically made to look like legitimate pharmaceutical pills (frequently oxycodone or alprazolam), is complicating the illicit drug market and potentially contributing to these deaths. Counterfeit pills often contain illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMFs), illicit benzodiazepines (e.g., bromazolam, etizolam, and flualprazolam), or other illicit drugs, and can increase overdose risk because the pills might expose persons to drugs they did not intend to use,” the CDC wrote.

The Stateline analysis paints a particularly dire picture for young adults in New Mexico, where death rates stand at approximately 188 per 100,000—an alarming 43% increase since 2018. Other states grappling with exceptionally high death rates among those under 40 include West Virginia (170 deaths per 100,000), Louisiana and Mississippi (164), and Alaska (163).