Opioid crisis leads to decline in average life expectancy — CDC

Faith Castro
December 2, 2018

The US witnessed the most deaths in a single year, since official records began, in 2017, with suicide and drug overdose deaths soaring among an aging population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Another recently released report from the CDC found that life expectancy in the country declined to 78.6 years, the third consecutive year for a downward trend.

Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the Center for Health Statistics, said the leveling off of prescription drug deaths may reflect a small impact from efforts in recent years to curb the diversion of legal painkillers to users and dealers on the streets.

The data continued the longest sustained decline in expected life span at birth in a century, an appalling performance not seen in the United States since 1915 through 1918. Men could expect to live 76.1 years, women 81.1.

"I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless, and that that leads to drug use, it leads potentially to suicide", said Dr. William Dietz, a disease prevention expert at George Washington University.

Two age groups saw increases in death rates: younger adults aged between 25 and 44 years, and people over 85 years old.

The New York Times: 'The Numbers Are So Staggering.' Overdose Deaths Set A Record Last Year.

More: Suicide is one of the nation's top killers.

The US still ranks as having among the lowest life expectancy rates for developed nations.

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As you can see in the map (linked here and embedded below), the areas most affected by high rates of death are concentrated in the Southeast and parts of the Southwest.

At the same time, suicide rates have also steadily increased, according to the CDC, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the USA - and the second most common cause of death for people ages 10 to 34.

For the second time in three years, life expectancy in the US has ticked downward. When those death rates were broken down by ethnicity and sex, white people-both men and women-had a statistically significant increase in death rate, although their absolute rates were still lower than those of black men and women.

Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC director, called the trend tragic and troubling.

Still, the increase was not as big as the 21 percent leap in drug overdose death rate between 2015 and 2016.

The death rates are driven mostly by a startling 9.6 percent increase in drug overdose deaths, from 63,632 in 2016 to 70,237 in 2017.

Life expectancy fell for the first time in decades in 2015. The highest rate in the region was 37 deaths per 100,000 in New Hampshire. They accounted for almost 30,000 of the drug overdose deaths.

According to the Associated Press, the suicide rate in America has reached a 50-year peak.

The Washington Post notes that other factors contributed to an increased death rate past year, including a spike in influenza deaths as well as fatalities from chronic low respiratory diseases, Alzheimer's disease and strokes.

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