Friday, December 22, 2017

Drug overdose deaths reduced life expectancy in the U.S. for the second consecutive year

Life expectancy in the United States decreased in 2016 for the second year in a row, mostly because of a rise in drug overdose deaths, according to data released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unintentional drug overdoses are categorized under the "unintentional injuries" category, which has now become the third-leading cause of death in the U.S.,behind heart disease and cancer.

CDC chart; click the image to enlarge it.
Drug-overdose deaths spiked 30 percent between 2015 and 2016, the result being that "American life expectancy is now 78.6 years, down by 0.1 years from 2015 and also down from 2014," Mariam Alam reports for ABC News. "The decline in life expectancy appears to be caused by rising death rates for Americans ages 15-64. Death rates of Americans ages 25-34 by 10.5 percent between 2015 and 2016, and other young age groups also have increased death rates."

In raw numbers, that translates to more than 63,600 overdose deaths in 2016, up from 52,400 in 2015. Many are driven by opioids (such as prescription painkillers or heroin) or synthetic opioids like fentanyl or carfentanil. Overdoses from synthetic opioids rose 88 percent from 2013 to 2016, the CDC reports.

"According to the new report, drug-overdose deaths were highest in West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania," Alam reports. "Though it is not entirely clear why, experts suggest it may be related to drug trafficking patterns, population characteristics, frequency of opioid prescriptions and delayed prescription monitoring systems in these states."

Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the CDC, noted that the trend seems likely to continue for 2017, and that if life expectancy decreases for a third year in a row, it will be the first time such a thing has happened since the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1916, 1917 and 1918.

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