Measuring the impact of the opioid overdose epidemic on life expectancy at birth in Canada

Similar analyses have been conducted by Statistics Canada using updated national mortality data. View latest available results.

Key findings

  • The United States and British Columbia have both recently reported decreases in life expectancy, partly due to opioid overdose-related deaths.
  • When examining life expectancy at birth at the national level in Canada, life expectancy increased from 79.27 years in 2000 to 82.25 years in 2016, an increase of 2.99 years (or a 4% increase).
  • However, during this same time period, there was a rise in accidental (unintentional) substance-related deaths, including deaths due to opioids. This rise slowed the progress made in national life expectancy by 0.16 years. In other words, without the recent drug overdose crisis, the increase in life expectancy for Canadians could have reached 3.15 years, compared to the actual observed increase of 2.99 years between 2000 and 2016.
  • These results do not take into account increases in mortality seen in 2017 and 2018 to date. Analyses will be updated when complete mortality data for 2017 become available.

Introduction/background

Canada continues to experience a serious opioid overdose crisis. Across the country, it is having devastating effects on families and communities. The impact of the crisis on the Canadian population can be measured in different ways.

Life expectancy is one of the most general measures of the overall health of a population. It reflects the number of years a person would be expected to live based on the rates of death in a population in a given year (usually from birth)Footnote 1 .

Why was this study conducted?

Recent decreases to life expectancy at birth have been reported in both the United States and British Columbia, in part due to increases in opioid-related deathsFootnote 2Footnote 3. The impact of the opioid overdose epidemic on life expectancy at the national level has not yet been demonstrated.

How did we carry out this study?

The present study was carried out using data from the Canadian Vital Statistics Death Database to measure the impact of accidental (unintentional) substance-related deaths, including opioid-related deaths, on life expectancy at birth in Canada. Accidental substance-related deaths include deaths due to accidental poisoning by drugs, alcohol, chemicals and other harmful substances. A more detailed article on this study is in press and will be published early 2019 in the Journal Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada.

What did we learn?

  • Overall, life expectancy at birth in Canada increased by almost three years between 2000 and 2016.
  • The increase was larger for males (3.48 years), than females (2.52 years).
  • Increases in accidental substance-related deaths, including opioid-related deaths, slowed the increase in life expectancy at birth by 0.16 years.
  • The negative impact on life expectancy was larger for men (-0.23 year), compared to females (-0.09 year).
Table 1. Impact of accidental substance-related deaths on life expectancy at birth between 2000 and 2016 Footnote *
Measure Overall Males Females
Footnote *

Estimates are rounded to two decimal places; as such, estimates may not add to totals.

Return to footnote * referrer

Life expectancy at birth  2000 79.27 76.63 81.80
Life expectancy at birth  2016 82.25 80.12 84.31
Gain in life expectancy between  2000 and 2016 2.99 3.48 2.52
Negative impact of increase in accidental substance-related deaths on life expectancy -0.16 -0.23 -0.09
Potential gain to life expectancy if increase in accidental substance-related deaths had not occurred between 2000 and 2016 3.15 3.71 2.61
Potential life expectancy if increase in accidental substance-related deaths had not occurred between 2000 and 2016 82.41 80.35 84.40

Study limitations

These analyses used Vital Statistics data on deaths up to 2016. These results do not take into account increases in accidental substance-related deaths seen in 2017 and 2018 to date. Analyses will be updated when the final mortality data for 2017 become available.

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