Abuse of drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone in the U.S. has been increasing for the last few years, and, while always insidious, this uptick is starting to drive real consequences for many Americans and American businesses.
The death rate of Americans has spiked for the first time in over a decade, the federal government announced on Wednesday. The opioid epidemic, which kills more Americans than car crashes each year, is surely playing a role. In 2012, doctors wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's enough pills for every American to have her or his own prescription.
To be sure, there are other causes for the rising death rate besides the nation's opioid epidemic. For instance, more Americans are dying from drug overdoses, Alzheimer's disease, stroke, hypertension, firearms, accidental injuries, and suicides than previous years. Death caused by heart disease was flat in 2015 after decreasing for years. On a lighter note, deaths related to cancer and HIV are down.
According to preliminary data by the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. death rate rose to 729.5 deaths per 100,000 Americans in 2015, up from 723.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014. The spike in deaths is the first mortality rate increase in 10 years and one of the few times the mortality rate has increased in America in the last 25 years, the CDC finds.
Still, the numbers don't look good. While we'll have to wait for more answers about the actual causes for the rise, as an employer, you should at the very least be familiar with these stats and acknowledge that some of your employees might indeed have drug problems.
Dr. J. Wesley Boyd, a psychiatrist who teaches at Harvard Medical School, tells Inc. that if you think an employee is addicted to drugs or alcohol or having health problems, you need to open a dialogue and find out how they are doing.
The CDC adjusted the data to reflect the Baby Boomer generation, which has brought historic levels of the U.S. population to old age than ever before.
A combination of medical breakthroughs and better disease and health management have helped to bring the number of deaths due to cancer down to historic lows. Researchers are not sure if the increase in 2015 is a one-time jump like years before or something else.
Farida Ahmad, who is in charge of mortality surveillance for the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, tells the Washington Post that the federal government will dig down and find out if the increase is trend or an anomaly.
"It's something that we're going to be looking into, and watching to see if it holds for 2016. It could be that it's just a blip as it was 10 years ago," Ahmad tells the Washington Post.