SPECIAL REPORT: American’s life span declining due to opioid epidemic

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CENTRAL WISCONSIN (WAOW) —  The average life expectancy is dropping in the United States.

Startling data shows people are dying at a younger age and the biggest reason comes down to drugs.

The opioid epidemic has gotten so bad that studies show a person is more likely to die from the drugs than being killed in a car crash, according to a new report by the National Safety Council.

The Center of Disease Control said this is the prime reason why people are not living as long.

Tom Kelly was 15 years old when he was first introduced to opioids after a simple dental procedure.

“I was introduced real early, and I knew that it was something I would go to any length to get when I needed it,” said Kelly.

Kelly said it left him craving for more.

“It was fairly easy as a kid. I recall not being able to get to the doctor soon enough to get more opioids prescribed, and I tried other methods to no avail, such as over-the-counter medications,” Kelly said.

As the years passed, Kelly said he went to great lengths to get opioids. He even had to steal them from his elderly parents, Kelly told News 9.

“It is beyond description what a person addicted to a substance will do to get the substance,” he said.

Kelly is one of the thousands of others who have suffered from addiction.

A 2018 report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows there were 865 opioid-related overdose deaths in Wisconsin. 15 of those deaths occurred in Marathon Co.

This means per 100,000 people in Wisconsin, there were 15.8 opioid deaths on average — more than the national average of 13.3 deaths.

“When I look at it, one life lost is too many to the opioid crisis,” said Melissa Moore, the Drugs Free Communities Coordinator of Marathon Co. “I think the community needs to remember these are our children, these are family members, our loved ones and our neighbors.”

Those deaths are linked to the decline in life span in the U.S.

According to the CDC, the average life span has gone from 78.9 years to 78.6 years within four years.

“There are no do-overs when you’e dead,” Moore said.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Moore said the epidemic can be controlled, starting right in your own home.

“When we talk about opioids, we need to make sure the community understands what opioids are,” Moore said. “It’s not just heroin, it’s not just stuff purchased on the streets; it’s stuff that’s in our own medicine cabinets.”

“Prescribe them properly for the right conditions, and keep a close eye on the people we are prescribing them to,” said Dr. Larry Gordon of Aspirus Weston Clinic. “Make sure they aren’t mixing with other medications that don’t mix well.

Kelly turned his life around before he became another statistic because he realized the path of destruction he was on and sobered up.

“Withdrawal is worse than the common cold or the flu,” said Kelly. “It’s not as simple; it involves too much of a psychological pain with withdrawal,”.

Now, Kelly said, it is his will to help others before it’s too late by becoming a recovery coach.

“It’s not something that, unless a person has experienced themselves it’s difficult to fully emphasize and understand what the other person is going through,” he said.

If you or someone you know finds themselves addicted to opioids, there are many resources in our area willing to help.

Communities in Marathon County offer drop off boxes to help make it easier for people to get rid of these silent killers.

You can also dial 211 to reach the Wisconsin Addiction Recovery Helpline.





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