They call the years between ages 25 and 65 the prime of life because it is supposed to be the period during which an adult enjoys his or her best health and maximum productivity. Yet to a disturbing degree, that description no longer fits Americans’ experience. Between 2010 and 2017, the mortality rate for 25-to-64-year-olds increased from 328.5 deaths per 100,000 to 348.2 per 100,000 — or about 6 percent — according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This contributed to a reversal of what had been decades of progress (albeit slower since the 1980s) in life expectancy, which stood at 78.6 years in 2017, down from the all-time high of 78.9 years in 2014. This simply should not be occurring in a rich country whose peer nations have maintained or improved life expectancy figures in recent years.
Embarrassment, we hope, gives way to urgency. The study confirms that the mass opioid addiction epidemic that began in the late 1990s ranks as one of the great public-health disasters in American history. Between 1999 and 2017, deaths from drug overdoses more than quadrupled among prime-age adults. Yet deaths due to 34 other causes — among them suicide, obesity and organ-system disease — also rose significantly. Accordingly, though better access to drug treatment will probably ameliorate the situation, change and reform will also be needed in mental health, as well as in nutrition and recreation. So, too, will improvements be needed in traffic safety and, yes, gun safety.