United States life expectancy drops for second year in a row

Boston paramedics face front lines of U.S. opioid crisis
Credit
Reuters

Average life expectancy in the United States in 2016 was 78.6 years, a decrease of 0.1 year from 2015, when it dropped 0.1 year from 2014's 78.8 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For men, the rate increased from 8.2 out of 100,000 men dying from overdoses, whereas now the rate has increased to 26.2 out of 100,000 men overdosing from drugs.

Deaths from opioid overdoses increased almost 28 percent, from roughly 33,000 in 2015 to more than 42,200 in 2016. For the first time, the powerful painkiller fentanyl and its close opioid cousins played a bigger role in the deaths than any other legal or illegal drug, surpassing prescription pain pills and heroin. The slide was driven by higher death rates among young and middle-aged Americans, with those aged 25-34 experiencing the largest increase.

Adams County has witnessed the impact of opioid addiction and heroin use, as well as communities in Northeast Missouri and Southeast Iowa.

Preliminary 2017 figures show the rise in overdose deaths continuing.

The CDC said a baby born last year in the States is expected to live around 78 years and 7 months on average. In contrast, an American born in 2015 was expected to live about a month longer and one born in 2014 about two months longer than that, the report said. "Assuming that things kind of stay the way they are with other causes of death, and the drug overdose mortality goes up, I think we're in for more of the same and maybe a third year in a row of declining life expectancy, which we haven't seen for 100 years, since the Spanish flu in 1916, 1917 and 1918".

For the first time in more than half a century, American life expectancy has fallen for two years in a row, a trend largely fueled by opioid overdoses. Overdose rates for all drugs were roughly 35 cases per 100,000 individuals among all three groups in 2016, compared to 12 deaths per 100,000 for those under 24 and 6 deaths per 100,000 among seniors age 65 and up.

Clearly, there are lifestyle changes all of us can make to increase the odds of living longer, healthier and happier.

With an eye toward these factors - that opioids are not the only cause of overdose death and that inequalities exist in our country - if we want to solve the opioid epidemic we, as a society, must realize that the opioid problem is not the same for everybody.

"The escalating growth of opioid deaths is downright frightening - and it's getting worse", said John Auerbach, president and CEO of Trust for America's Health. Whereas in the past drug addiction was commonly handled with criminalization and stigmatization, now there is a call (appropriately) for a gentler war on drugs that recognizes addiction as a medical condition that is treated like any other chronic disease. It breaks down to nearly 21 years more for women and 18 years more for men.

American men made up the cause of the drop, as women's life expectancy remained steady at 81.1 years. "The message I want to send is that this is problem for our nation and we need to do something about it". There's been a somewhat smaller increase in heroin deaths, the team found.

On the upside, death rates decreased for seven of the 10 leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. That partly reflects the nation's growing and aging population.

The United States ranks below dozens of other high-income countries in life expectancy, according to the World Bank.

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