Colorado is experiencing an unprecedented decline in life expectancy since World War II, driven by COVID and overdose deaths

Life expectancy fell in Colorado for the second straight year in 2021. It’s the kind of decline, driven by the pandemic, not seen in decades, according to state health department data.

The average life expectancy for Colorado residents fell to 78 years in 2021. That’s slightly lower than 2020, the first year of the pandemic when it was 78.4 years, but the drop represents a persistent and significant drop. almost three years compared to 2019.

“The last time life expectancy dropped like this was in 1943, which was the deadliest year of World War II for the nation,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr Eric France. of State. “It is tragic to see life expectancy dropping. Death rates have increased by 20%”.

The main drivers of the decline were COVID-19 and overdose deaths.

Data varies by demographic group. COVID-19 was the leading cause of death among Hispanics, as well as Hawaiians/other non-Hispanic Pacific Islanders and Native Americans/Alaska Natives, the data showed.

Dr Lilia Cervantes, associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said she was not surprised by the new numbers.

“The Latino community makes up the majority of the essential workforce,” said Cervantes, who is a member of the Colorado Vaccine Equity Taskforce. “During COVID they have been the least protected. They could not avoid public transport. They have had to continue working sometimes even when sick and are the least likely to have health coverage.

Vaccination rates for Hispanics, the term used in state and federal health studies, lag other groups, both in Colorado and nationally.

Data reflects national trends.

American Indians and Alaska Natives faced similar health issues at the population level. Both communities entered the pandemic with “long-standing, pre-existing health disparities that made them particularly vulnerable to more severe COVID illness and death,” said Michelle Sarche, licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor at the Centers for American Indian & Alaska Native Health and Department of Community and Behavioral Health at the Colorado School of Public Health.

She noted that many tribal communities face underlying health issues, including “inadequate access to health care, education, affordable and adequate housing, and economic opportunity, all of which are treaty rights and reliance obligations that the United States, in its own analysis, has failed to defend.”

As disturbing as these data are, however, it’s important to tell the whole story, “that of resilience, resistance and survival,” said Sarche, a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of the Ojibwe Tribe.

Native American and Alaska Native communities “have launched some of the most successful vaccination campaigns,” she said. “They have mobilized enormous resources to protect their communities, and the most vulnerable among them – including the elders”, carrying the native language and culture to younger generations.

Cervantes also highlighted the resilience of Hispanic communities during the pandemic and highlighted changes that could help down the road.

She said countries with similar wealth to the United States provide more comprehensive social services and guarantee health care. She thinks a recent push to cover all Coloradans and make health care more affordable could help.

“I feel like Colorado is creating changes to make access to health care coverage less dependent on immigration status and socioeconomic status,” she said.

Overall life expectancy for Colorado residents was 78.4 years in 2020 (81.0 years for females, 76.0 years for males) and 78.0 years in 2021 (80.9 years for males). women and 75.2 years for men), according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. . This is based on final death certificate data for 2020 and 2021, and improved population estimates for both years.

COVID-19 remained the third leading cause of death among Colorado residents in 2021, as it did in 2020, the health department found. Among non-Hispanic Black/African Americans, Asians and Whites, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death.

Unintentional injuries, which include all accidental drug overdoses, motor vehicle accidents and falls, remained the fourth leading cause of death among Colorado residents in 2021, while suicide remained the eighth leading cause and that homicide rose from the 17th to the 16th leading cause. Chronic diseases continue to make up the remaining leading causes of death.

“The main driver of the increase in drug overdose deaths in recent years has indeed been fentanyl,” said Vital Statistics program manager Kirk Bol. Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent. It is increasingly found in other drugs containing fentanyl, causing users to accidentally overdose.

In 2017, the state recorded 81 fentanyl deaths. In 2021, the number has risen to 912, or half of all overdose deaths. Bol called it a “shocking increase”.

In 2021, there were 1,881 total drug overdose deaths among Colorado residents – an increase from the 1,477 deaths recorded in 2020. The largest increase was for fentanyl, which rose from 540 in 2020 to 912. Increases were also seen in overdose deaths involving methamphetamine and cocaine, while slight decreases were seen in heroin overdose deaths.

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