U.S. Opioid Crisis Is Top Health Story of 2018

By E.J. Mundell

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Dec. 27, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- The scourge of opioid addiction and related deaths cut through American society again in 2018, capturing headlines and making it the year's top health story.

Rates of opioid-linked fatal overdoses have nearly doubled over the past decade and topped 70,000 in 2017, according to data released in November by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many of those tragic deaths occurred among young adults and were linked to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that's 50 times more potent than heroin.

All of this means that for three years in a row, U.S. average life expectancy reversed a long-term upward trend and actually dropped -- from nearly 79 years in 2014 to 78.6 years now.

"We've been talking about the fact that our children will live less long than we will, and that's clearly coming to pass," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

Other top health stories of 2018, as compiled by editors at HealthDay :

Vaping rates soar among the young

Even as smoking rates fell to all-time lows among teens, another form of addictive nicotine intake, the e-cigarette, was poised to take its place.

The latest federal data on youth behaviors found vaping among American teenagers rising dramatically in 2018, with nearly two of every five high school seniors (37 percent) reporting they've tried an e-cigarette during the past year. That's up from 28 percent the year before.

Many worry that the sleek "cool" factor of the leading e-cigarette brand, Juul, may be luring the young to take up vaping -- which many experts worry is a merely a bridge to traditional smoking.

Seeking to reverse these trends, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in November announced that it would take steps to limit or ban access to flavored e-cigarettes, much favored by teens.

A deadly flu season

A virulent dominant strain of influenza, relatively low uptake of the flu shot, and a poor match between the vaccine and the dominant strains of virus combined to make 2017-2018 one of the worst flu seasons in recent memory.