Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Drug addiction has taken many lives globally, but it's had a disproportionate impact on life expectancy in the United States, a study says.
In fact, drug overdose deaths in the U.S. have reached a rate 3.5 times higher than 17 other wealthy countries, according to a study published Thursday in Population and Development Review.
Researchers say this study is the first to illustrate how the opioid epidemic has contributed to the life expectancy disparity between the U.S. and other wealthy nations.
"The United States is experiencing a drug overdose epidemic of unprecedented magnitude, not only judging by its own history but also compared to the experiences of other high-income countries," Jessica Ho, assistant professor at USC School of Gerontology and study author, said in a news release. "For over a decade now, the United States has had the highest drug overdose mortality among its peer countries."
Finland and Sweden had the highest levels of drug overdose deaths around the world until the early 2000s. Since then, the U.S. has had a drug overdose mortality rate twice that of Finland and Sweden.
By 2013, the life expectancy gap between the United States and other high-income countries averaged 12 percent for men and 8 percent for women.
"The American epidemic has important consequences for international comparisons of life expectancy. While the United States is not alone in experiencing increases in drug overdose mortality, the magnitude of the differences in levels of drug overdose mortality is staggering," Ho said.
Some point to the easy accessibility of opioids as a potential cause of the opioid epidemic. One study published earlier this year suggested that promotional payments from drug companies led doctors to prescribe more opioids to patients. Last year, six states sued pharmaceutical company Purdue for reckless marketing that has help fuel the opioid epidemic.
The study says more than 70,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses in 2017. Additionally, the odds of opioids playing a role in car crashes have risen in recent years, according to the National Safety Council.
By 2025, illicit opioid deaths are expected to increase by 147 percent.
Today, life expectancy in the U.S. is 27 times lower than Italy and Japan, the countries with the two highest life expectancy rates, the study says, and on average Americans are living 2.6 years fewer than people in other high-income countries.
But fentanyl and prescription opioid use is becoming more common in Australia, Canada and the U.K. That signals a potential epidemic on the horizon in those countries, researchers say.
"The use of prescription opioids and synthetic drugs like fentanyl are becoming increasingly common in many high-income countries and constitute a common challenge to be confronted by these countries," Ho said, though the United States remains squarely in the lead.