A Publication of WTVP

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Americans are dying at an earlier age—as life expectancy has declined for the third straight year. This troubling trend has not been seen in the U.S. since 1915-1918—a period encompassing the first World War and a massive flu epidemic that killed 675,000 U.S. citizens.

Heart disease and cancer remain the leading causes of death, although the cancer rate declined by 2.1 percent. All other major causes of death increased from 2016 to 2017, with the largest increases from unintentional injuries (up 4.2%), diabetes (2.4%), suicide (3.7%), and influenza/pneumonia (5.9%). Contributing to the increase, the CDC reports that nearly seven percent fewer people received the flu vaccine for last year’s flu season.

Accidental drug overdoses have climbed significantly in recent years—with one fifth of the deaths of Americans ages 24 to 35 caused by opioid overdoses in 2016. Fentanyl was the leading cause of overdose deaths that year, with the rate of overdose deaths due to the synthetic opioid doubling each year from 2013 to 2016.

However, Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood reports that fatal drug overdoses in Peoria County actually declined over the past year. “In 2017, we recorded 67 drug overdoses in Peoria County. Of those, 54 originated in Peoria County. In 2018, we accounted for 58 drug overdoses, with 44 of them originating in Peoria County,” he explains. “I believe the 20-percent reduction is due to the efforts of harm reduction strategies that exist in central Illinois.” These strategies include the distribution of Narcan, which can help reverse an opioid overdose, and the Good Samaritan Law, which protects those who call 911 for a friend who may have overdosed.

But opioid addiction remains a persistent problem in central Illinois. “We have seen over 1,000 patients in our emergency departments for opiate use concerns. This represents a 23-percent increase from 2016 to 2018, with the largest increase in the past year alone,” says Cheryl Crowe, director of behavioral health services at OSF HealthCare. 

“Our physician offices have provided just under 3,000 visits for patients struggling with opiate use. This and the national reports have prompted OSF to develop a number of teams dedicated to addressing this issue,” she adds.