To Forgive is Divine. To Forget Would be Abject Stupidity.
Posted by Ed Folsom, April 23, 2023.
On December 22, 2022, a series of news headlines all told us essentially the same thing: U.S. life expectancy dropped again in 2021 due to COVID-19 and drug overdoses, according to recently released reports from the CDC (examples here and here). How much did life expectancy decline from 2020 to 2021? To quote the CDC’s December 2022 report, “Mortality in the United States, 2021”:
“In 2021, life expectancy at birth was 76.4 years for the total U.S. population—a decrease of 0.6 year from 77.0 years in 2020. For males, life expectancy decreased 0.7 year from 74.2 in 2020 to 73.5 in 2021. For females, life expectancy decreased 0.6 year from 79.9 in 2020 to 79.3 in 2021.”
The same report tells us that:
- COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in 2021, behind heart disease and cancer.
- On an age-adjusted basis, eight of the top 10 causes of death increased in 2021, with COVID-19 deaths increasing 22.5% from 85 deaths per 100,000 to 104.1, and with unintentional injuries (which includes drug overdose deaths) increasing 12%, from 57.6 per 100,000 to 64.7 per 100,000.
- The life expectancy numbers above are at birth. For those who were age 65 in 2021, life expectancy declined overall by 0.1 years. Females who were 65 in 2021 were expected to live another 19.7 years, down from 19.8 years in 2020, while males age 65 in 2021 were expected to live another 17 years, unchanged from 2020.
But of the eight leading causes of death in 2021, only one – COVID-19 – caused mass, population-wide panic, stoked by essentially the following message: “We’re all in this together. Everyone presents a threat of death to everyone else from mere proximity, but especially those who don’t follow the government’s orders!”
After COVID-19 vaccines became available, the messaging added essentially the following: “This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. The unvaccinated are unclean, science denying followers of uncouth, Putin-collusionist Trump. They eat horse dewormer and believe they have a right to kill you with their COVID. Punish them, fire them, banish them!” (I know. It sounded so much more sophisticated when you were shrieking it.)
So, how much of the decline in life expectancy is attributable to the disease that gave rise to the mass hysteria, versus drug overdose deaths? The CDC’s reports do not tell us. Nor do the December 22, 2022, news reports that bear the nearly identical headlines informing us that COVID-19 and drug overdose deaths caused most of 2021’s decline in U.S. life expectancy. But wouldn’t it be interesting to know?
What can we glean for ourselves?
We know, from the CDC’s provisional death counts statistics for COVID-19, that through April 19, 2023, the CDC recorded a total of 1,126,497 U.S. COVID-19-related deaths. Of those, 275,132 involved people under age 65 (24.4%) while 851,265 involved people age 65 and older (75.6%). We also know, from a November 2022 CDC report, that drug overdoses among those age 65 and older increased between 2020 and 2021, to the point where they represented 5,209 of year 2020’s U.S. drug overdose deaths. And, a February 9, 2023 report on U.S. drug overdose trends, from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, tells us there were 91,799 drug overdose deaths in 2020. The 5,209 overdose deaths among those age 65 or older represent just under 5.7% of the 91,799 drug overdose deaths in 2020, with the remaining 86,590 deaths — 94.3% — occurring among those under age 65.
From that, we can see that while the U.S. population under age 65 has suffered only about 24% of U.S. COVID-19-related deaths, that same population suffered over 94% of U.S. drug overdose deaths in 2020. This was probably very similar in 2021. Conversely, while the population age 65 and older has suffered roughly 76% of COVID-19-related deaths, it suffered less than 6% of 2020’s overdose deaths. Again, this was probably very similar in 2021.
COVID-19 deaths in the group ages 65 and older (76% of all COVID-19 deaths) did very little to reduce that group’s life expectancy, even when combined with all other causes of death. There was no change in life expectancy among males in this age group in 2021. Among females, COVID-19 and all other causes of mortality combined only reduced life expectancy by 1 month. If the 2021 reduction in the overall population’s life expectancy was mainly due to COVID-19 and drug overdose deaths, given that each premature death in the population age 65 and older reduces the life expectancy of the general population less than each premature death in the population under age 65, what does that tell us about the relative impact of drug overdose deaths versus COVID-19 deaths on the overall reduction in life expectancy? Might it tell us that drug overdose deaths contributed more to reduced life expectancy than COVID-19 deaths?
We have already seen that drug overdose deaths among people age 65 and older made up only 5.6% of 2020’s drug overdose deaths. The February 2023 Drug Overdose Death Rates report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse also tells us that there were 70,630 overdose deaths in 2019, 91,799 in 2020, and 106,699 in 2021. That’s 269,128 overdose deaths from 2019 through 2021. I don’t have the number for 2022, and don’t believe it is yet available. But given the upward trend, it should be safe to assume that the 2022 number was at least as high as the 2020 number. If 2022 saw only the same number of overdose deaths as 2020, there were some 290,297 U.S. drug overdose deaths from the beginning of 2020 through the end of 2022. Again, something over 94% of those deaths (272,879 or more) occurred in the population under age 65, while something closer to 6% (around 17,418) occurred in the population age 65 or older.
How does that compare to the number of COVID-19 deaths in these two demographics between the first of 2020 and the end of 2022? The U.S. CDC has recorded 275,132 COVID-19-related deaths in the population under age 65 through April 19, 2023. Among people under age 65, there were nearly as many drug overdose deaths as COVID-19-related deaths. In fact, of the 275,132 COVID-19 deaths among people under age 65, 201,128 of them (73%) occurred among people between ages 50 and 64, with only 74,074 (27%) among everyone under age 50. Because each younger person’s death takes away more years of life and therefore contributes more heavily to a reduction in overall life expectancy than each older person’s death, it’s useful to know how much the drug overdose deaths skew to the younger population, just as we already know that COVID-19-related deaths skew old. So, how young do drug overdose deaths skew? The chart below (from the CDC report, “Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 2001-2021) shows us the age breakdown in drug overdose deaths per 100,000 population:
According to these numbers, in 2020, 78% of drug overdose deaths among people age 15 and older were in the population under age 55. And 55.74% occurred in the population under age 45. In 2021, 76.4% occurred in the population under age 55, and 54.3% among those under age 45.
As discussed above, there were around 272,879 overdose deaths in the population under age 65 from 2020 through 2022, versus 275,132 COVID-19 deaths in that same age group. Roughly 55% of the drug overdose deaths in 2020 and 2021 were among people under age 45, amounting to around 149,672 of the 272,879 drug overdose deaths, while less than 27% of COVID-19-related deaths among everyone under 65 – around 74,004 of 275,132 — occurred in the population under age 50.
Given a life expectancy of 76.4 years, the death of a 44-year-old represents the loss of just over 32 life years, while the death of a 55-year-old represents the loss of just over 21 years, etc. If COVID-19-related deaths and drug overdose deaths were the main drivers of the reduction in U.S. life expectancy in 2021, it looks like drug deaths were the bigger driver of the two.
What if government COVID policies and population-wide COVID hysteria actually contributed to increased drug use, overdoses and overdose deaths? Surely that possibility falls within the realm of the unmentionable, that is, “misinformation.” Ban the Science Denying™ threat to Our Democracy™!!! Right?
What Do the Numbers Look Like in Maine?
Maine has a lot of drug overdose deaths. According to Maine’s December 2022 and February 2023 Monthly Overdose Reports (here and here), there were 227 drug overdose deaths among people age 60 and older from January of 2020 through February of 2023. For all ages, there were 1,944 drug overdose deaths recorded in Maine in this time frame, and 1,632 of them (84%) occurred in the population under age 60. How does that compare to the distribution of deaths involving COVID-19 during the period?
According to the Maine CDC’s most recently released CSV file on Maine COVID-19 cases and deaths, there have been 2,998 deaths in Maine involving COVID-19 to date. Of those, 352 (11.74%) have occurred in the population under age 60. The other 2,646 (88.25%) have occurred in the population age 60 and above, with 2,181 (72.7%) in the population age 70 and above, and 1,381 (46.6%) in the population age 80 and above.
In other words, while there have been only 352 deaths involving COVID-19 to date among all Maine people under age 60, there were 1,632 drug overdose deaths in this same age group from January of 2020 through February of 2023! Which phenomenon – deaths involving COVID-19 or drug overdose deaths — do you suppose has had the heftier impact on life expectancy numbers in Maine?
And yet, between the two leading causes of decreased life expectancy, it’s COVID-19 that led to mass hysteria; that caused schools to be closed; businesses to be ordered closed; churches to be ordered closed; funerals to be banned; wedding gatherings to be banned; gatherings of particular but ever-varying sizes to be banned; people to be banned from visiting sick or dying loved ones; people to be banned from parks and public beaches; people to be warned not to gather with family for Thanksgiving or Christmas; people to be ordered to stay home except as necessary to shop for essentials; people to be told to stay 6 feet away from each other; people to be subjected to one-way aisles in grocery stores; interstate travel to be banned unless followed by a 2-week quarantine; people to be required to wear masks in various settings for years on end; adults to be forced to accept vaccination as a condition of employment; people to be barred from travel unless vaccinated; people to be fired from their jobs for refusing vaccination; and public messaging that people who failed to follow government orders were a loathsome scourge who threatened the public with death.
Way too many people felt virtuous being swept up in the hysteria. It provided a glimpse at enthusiasm for the totalitarian.
To forgive is divine. To forget would be abject stupidity.