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November 29, 2018

Drug overdoses and suicide driving decline in U.S. life expectancy

CDC director: 'We are losing too many Americans, too early and too often'

Adult Health Mortality
11292018_opioids_Flickr Ajay Suresh/via Flickr Creative Commons

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Life expectancy in the United States has dropped again, according to three reports released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday.

The main drivers of the decline – the second reported in three years – are overdose and suicide rates, the health agency said.

CDC data shows that overall, life expectancy in the United States dropped to 78.6 years in 2017, down from 78.7 years in 2016, contributing to the longest-running decline since World War I, when a flu pandemic killed almost 700,000 people nationwide between 1915 and 1918, Huffington Post reports.

The increase in death rates was most noticeable in white Americans ― a 0.6 percent jump for white males and 0.9 percent for white females, according to the CDC.


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

"Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation's overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable," he wrote.

The report also outlines the 10 leading causes of death in 2017, which remained unchanged from 2016. Accounting for nearly three-quarters of all deaths, they are heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease and suicide.

CDC data revealed that the rate of drug overdoses jumped 9.6 percent between 2016 and 2017, with 70,237 deaths last year. The rate of death from synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, jumped by 71 percent between 2013 and 2017 and by 45 percent just between 2016 and 2017. But the rate of overdose deaths from heroin and some prescription opioids, including oxycodone and hydrocodone, remained about the same from 2016 to 2017, the report noted.

Three age groups – 25-to-34, 35-to-44 and 45-to-54– were most noticeably affected by overdose-related deaths in 2017. The highest rates were concentrated in only a few states, including West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

CDC data shows that suicide rates also continue to climb, most noticeably among rural Americans. Between 1999 and 2017, the suicide rate increased by 33 percent. More remote areas have seen rates almost twice as high as urban areas.

"We must all work together to reverse this trend and help ensure that all Americans live longer and healthier," Redfield said in his statement, adding that the CDC "is committed to putting science into action to protect U.S. health."

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