United States life expectancy drops, overdoses climb - govt report

New Hamphire State Drug Laboratory

New Hamphire State Drug Laboratory

Drug overdoses and suicides helped fuel an increase in deaths in the USA last year, and also impacted the continued decline in life expectancy for Americans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday.

The average American could expect to live to 78.6 years old in 2017, down from 78.7 in 2016, according to data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

Women are expected to live longer than men, with female life expectancy unchanged at 81.1 years in 2017, while male life expectancy decreased from 76.2 years in 2016 to 76.1 years in 2017.

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 volume of opioids prescribed for American patients has been falling since 2010, while the upward trend in deaths involving opioids has accelerated, reaching a record number past year.

According to World Health Organization data, the USA ranks 31st in life expectancy worldwide, among the lowest in the industrialized world.

The 10 leading causes of death remained the same, with heart disease and cancer at the top of the list.

The rate of suicides has crept up from 10 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 14 a year ago.

More than 70,000 people died of drug overdoses previous year alone, according to the CDC.

CDC & FDA
CDC & FDA

In a separate report, the CDC also documented a 3.7 per cent increase in the suicide rate, another continuation of a recent trend.

Recently that rise has been partly driven by the opioid epidemic and a sharp uptick in the number of deaths involving synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl - a stunning 45 percent leap in the span of a single year, between 2016 and 2017.

"The concept of a plateau doesn't fill me with a lot of optimism, given how high the numbers are", said Sharfstein, from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"We're seeing the drop in life expectancy not because we're hitting a cap [for lifespans of] people in their 80s".

Suicide was ranked as the 10th-leading cause of death for Americans of all ages and the second-leading leading cause of death for people between ages 10 and 34, the data said. By comparison, only about 17,000 people died of overdoses in 1999, the earliest year for which the CDC offered data Thursday. Earlier CDC reports have noted increasing rates of suicide by gun.

"Higher suicide rates in rural areas are due to almost 60 percent of rural homes having a gun, versus less than half of homes in urban areas", Stanford University psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor Keith Humphreys told the Post.

In 2017, the suicide rate for the most rural counties (20 per 100,000) outpaced that in the most urban counties (about 11 per 100,000).

One major factor is drug overdoses. Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably already know what it is: drugs. She notes that many people may have suicidal thoughts prior to an overdose, or that others may take their lives to escape addiction.

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