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Life expectancy falls for second straight year due to opioid epidemic

Jessica McConnan By Jessica McConnan, M.A. on November 28, 2018

Increases in suicides and drug overdoses reduced life expectancy in the United States from 2016 to 2017, the government reported this week.

Three different government reports detailed the decline in life expectancy, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributed to more Americans dying from drug overdoses and from suicide.

More than 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, the CDC said.

Dr. Robert Redfield, who took the top job at the CDC in March of this year, called the drop in life expectancy and jump in overdoses a “wakeup call” for the nation. He said that too many people in the United States are dying from causes that could be prevented.

Between 2016 and 2017, the life expectancy for a person born in the United States fell from 78.7 years to 78.6 years. Female life expectancy continues to be higher than that for men, with women’s life expectancy remaining at 81.1 years in 2017, the same as 2016, versus 76.2 years for men, down from 76.1 years in 2016.

Statistical reports showed that the overall death rate in the United States changed from 729 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016 to 732 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017.

In 2017, 6,600 more people died of drug overdoses in the United States than the previous year, pushing the total to 70,237.

The rate of overdose deaths has increased dramatically in less than two decades, from 6 deaths per 100,000 people in 1999 to almost 22 deaths per 100,000 in 2017. Men die at a higher rate from drug overdoses than women – 29 men per 100,000 in 2017, versus 14 per 100,000 for women in 2017.

Younger people died more frequently from drugs, too. Those aged 25 to 34 years died at a rate of 38 per 100,000 people in 2017, while those 35 to 44 died at a rate of 39 per 100,000. People aged 45 to 54 died last year at a rate of 38 per 100,000 from drug overdoses.

Some states, such as hard hit West Virginia, had very high overdose death rates – there were 58 overdose deaths per 100,000 people in the Mountain State. South Dakota and Nebraska saw the lowest death rate, about 8 people per 100,000.

American suicide rates have been going up over the last two decades, contrary to those in many other nations. The U.S. suicide rate has increased from about 10 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 14 per 100,000 in 2017.

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