Canadian life expectancy at birth has stopped rising for the first time in over four decades — something Statistics Canada attributes to the ongoing opioid crisis.
A report released by the agency on Thursday showed that, on average, women in Canada can expect to live 84 years and men 79.9 years.
That number was unchanged between 2016 and 2017. Every year from the mid-1990s to 2012, life expectancy rose by 0.2 years. Growth slowed after 2012 to 0.1 years every year and now seems to have stopped.
In some provinces, like Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan, life expectancy continues to increase. However, this is offset by a falling life expectancy in British Columbia — where the figure dropped by 0.3 years for men between 2016 and 2017.
There’s good news in the report for seniors: older Canadians are dying at a slower rate, and there have been improved outcomes for cancer and circulatory diseases.
But, young Canadians — especially men aged 20 to 44 years — are dying at a faster rate, almost completely offsetting any gains in the older age groups.
Statistics Canada believes that the opioid crisis is a major cause of Canada’s stalled life expectancy.
“The drug overdose crisis occurring in Canada was a major contributing factor in the changes seen in life expectancy from 2016 to 2017, especially for men,” the agency wrote in a report.
Statistics Canada estimates that it led to a 0.12-year loss in life expectancy for men and a 0.03-year loss for women, though it warned that this was very likely a big underestimation, given that many drug-related deaths aren’t recorded as such — they are often called “unknown cause” instead.
“Combined, accidental drug-poisoning deaths and deaths of unknown cause offset nearly all the gains in life expectancy from other causes, resulting in life expectancy at birth remaining stable in Canada from 2016 to 2017,” the agency wrote.