British Columbia’s opioid crisis has contributed to declining life expectancy among men for the third straight year. (Black Press Media file photo)

B.C. men’s life expectancy down for a third straight year

Opioid crisis held responsible for declining life expectancy

The life expectancy for men born in British Columbia has dropped for the third straight year as of 2018 with experts blaming the opioid crisis as the primary factor.

These findings appear in a new report from Statistics Canada tracking male life expectancy at birth in Canada. It shows male life expectancy has stagnated for the third straight year at 79.9. Female life expectancy has increased from 84.0 to 84.1 years.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of this finding in light of larger historical trends. “For males, the stagnation observed in 2016, 2017 and 2018 is the longest on record,” notes the report. “Since Canada started recording information on deaths in 1921, life expectancy has typically increased from one year to the next, both for males and females.”

The epicentre of this national decline is British Columbia, which recorded the highest drop of all provinces in life expectancy at birth with a rate of 0.2 years.

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Life expectancy at birth in British Columbia for men has been dropping for three straight years after the province recorded the highest life expectancy of all provinces at 80.5 years in 2015. By 2018, it had dropped to 79.9 years, falling behind men in Quebec (80.9 years) and Ontario (80.3 years).

An analysis of the probabilities of dying by age shows mortality between the ages of 25 and 50 has been rising since 2016.

“It is likely that this increase is related to the opioid crisis, as deaths resulting from opioid intoxication tend to be more common in males of this age group, with British Columbia being more affected than other provinces and territories,” it reads.

The main chemical culprit is the opioid fentanyl. Between 2012 and the first 10 months of 2019, the provincial government recorded what it calls 6,351 illicit drug toxicity deaths. A closer break-down shows that fentanyl played a part in 4,238 of those deaths with fentanyl’s responsibility rapidly rising over time. In 2012, fentanyl played a part in four per cent of all illicit drug deaths. This share had jumped to 29 per cent by 2015, before jumping to 67 per cent in 2016. The fentanyl crisis reached its peak in 2018 when officials detected it in 87 per cent of all illicit drug deaths in British Columbia.

Provincial data also confirms the broader sociological analysis of Statistics Canada. Approximately seventy-seven per cent of individuals who died of an illicit drug overdose in 2019 — some 630 out of 823 individuals — were men.

Of those who died, 71 per cent were aged 30 to 59. If researchers include all individuals aged between 19 and 59, the number rises to 89 per cent. Looking at all age groups between 2009 and 2018, the youngest individual died at the age of 13, the oldest at the age of 76.

Looking at the likelihood of dying of an illicit drug overdose by age group, individuals between the ages of 30 and 39 have the highest rate with 38.2 deaths per 100,000 followed by the age groups of 40 to 49 (33.5 deaths per 100,000) and 50 to 59 (29.5 deaths per 100,000).

In other words, individuals during their prime earning years, but also during arguably the most complex phases of their respective lives, are the most likely to die of an illicit drug overdose, with men much more likely than women.


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