Life expectancy in the U.S. dropped for the third year in a row, largely driven by an increasing number of drug overdose deaths nationwide, according to a new federal report.
The shortening of life expectancy appears to be directly linked to the continuing opioid abuse epidemic that has plagued the United States in recent years, despite numerous steps taken to stymie the crisis.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Health and Statistics, using data from the National Vital Statistics System, issued the Mortality in the United States 2017 report and the Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 1999–2017 report this month, each of which paint a grim picture for the country.
In 2017, life expectancy declined to 78.6 years, with Americans expected to live one-tenth of a year less than they did in 2016. This marks the third year in a row the U.S. has seen a decrease.
This is the longest sustained decrease in life expectancy since the early 1900s, a time marked by World War I and a flu outbreak that killed more than 650,000 people in the United States.
Researchers indicate the decrease in life expectancy is primarily due to increasing drug overdose death rates and suicide rates. The reports indicate the decrease is largely due to people are dying early, in their 20s and 30s, from drug overdoses.
More than 70,000 people died from drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2017. That rate is nearly 10% higher than 2016 and the highest increase in the U.S. for a single year. Comparatively, the number of drug overdose deaths in 1999 reached 17,000.
The rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, increased by 45%. West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. were the hardest hit and had the highest drug overdose death rates in 2017.
“Tragically, this troubling trend is largely driven by deaths from drug overdose and suicide,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said in a press statement. “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. CDC is committed to putting science into action to protect U.S. health, but we must all work together to reverse this trend and help ensure that all Americans live longer and healthier lives.”