Pandemic, overdoses lower life expectancy rates among Summit County residents

by Judy Stringer

Drug overdoses and the COVID-19 pandemic were the biggest contributors to a 2.3-year drop in life expectancy among Summit County residents, according to a new Community Health Assessment released in January by Summit County Public Health. The CHA results reflect more than 250 indicators related to the physical, mental, social and financial health of residents.

Life expectancy, it found, decreased from 78.8 years during 2016-2018 to 76.5 during 2019-2021. Premature deaths – deaths before the age of 75 – increased 7.4% from 8,598 per 100,000 to 9,234 per 100,000, in the same time period.

“Summit County residents are not living as long as they used to, nor as long as they should be,” the report authors concluded. 

The study cited a 69% decrease in flu and pneumonia deaths and a 24% drop in gastrointestinal disease deaths – all likely related to masks and social distancing. However, it said, more than 1,900 Summit County residents have died of COVID-19 since its arrival, making it a top-five cause of death for residents ages 35 and older. For seniors, COVID-19 is a top three cause of death, ranking just behind cancer and heart disease.

Drug overdoses, meanwhile, continue to claim the lives of an average of 22 residents per month amid the ongoing trafficking of large amounts of fentanyl and other illicit substances, according to the report.

Among positive trends, the most recent CHA data found that the ratio of Summit County residents to mental health providers has improved, suggesting an increase in access to mental health services; wait times for publicly-funded treatment centers has declined; and access to broadband internet has grown to an estimated 90% of households. 

On the negative side, binge drinking among Summit County adults is up 25%, African American residents continue to suffer from negative health outcomes at a higher rate than white residents and housing affordability has worsened. Someone earning minimum wage would have to work at least 74 hours a week to afford a market-rate two-bedroom apartment in Summit County, it stated.

The 2022 CHA can be found at ∞