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Using the formula for projectile motion from physics, the interactive graph below depicts the cumulative impact of substance abuse compared to other common causes of death by looking at the total number of Americans killed annually and average age at death. A quick glance at these “life trajectories” shows the epidemic of life-shortening addiction. Not only are the total numbers of substance-related deaths comparable to other common causes, but considering the younger ages at which Americans die due to substances, the total years of life lost is staggering.

Drug Deaths Compared

According to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the average American lifespan is 78.7 years. From our estimates using data from the Centers for Disease Control, the average age of a drug overdose is 38.7 years, which would result in an average 40 years of American life lost for every drug-related death. Considering that 38,921 Americans die annually due to such deaths, this amounts to 40 x 38,921 = 1.557 million years of American life lost annually due to such overdoses. For comparison’s sake, suicide and motor vehicle accidents are responsible for the loss of 1.226 million and 1.255 million years of life per year, respectively.

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