U.S. life expectancy drops, overdoses climb - govt report

Americans are dying younger, as drug overdoses and suicide kill an increasing number of people, according to a grim new set of government statistics.

In news that will surprise probably no one with chronic pain, the Centers for Disease Control revealed today that opioid deaths increased from 2016 to 2017 - all due to fentanyl.

The estimate of how long a person born in 2017 can expect to live in the United States is 78.6 years, a decrease of 0.1 year from 2016, the government statisticians say.

"The idea that a developed wealthy nation like ours has declining life expectancy just doesn't seem right", said Robert Anderson, the chief of mortality statistics at the CDC, who helped prepare the reports.

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.

Another major contributor to declining life expectancy is the rising rate of suicides, which took more than 47,000 lives past year. But it suggests that the decrease in 2015 was more than a blip-and it points to unfolding stories about health and death in the United States.

Driving the trend have been deaths by drug overdose and by suicide. This change is much smaller than that of drug overdoses, only rising from 10 in 100,000 to 14 in 100,000 from 1999 to 2017, but it's still enough to impact the overall life expectancy.

The primary group that saw jumps in their death rates were 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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Additionally, last year's suicide death rate (47,000) reached an all-time high in at least 50 years.

The Washington Post notes that other factors contributed to an increased death rate past year, including a spike in influenza deaths as well as fatalities from chronic low respiratory diseases, Alzheimer's disease and strokes. The death rate for heart disease, the nation's number one killer, has also stopped falling.

There's also a need to prevent potent synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, from entering the drug market.

The recent increases in drug overdose deaths have been so steep that they have contributed to reductions in the country's life expectancy over the past three years and are the leading cause of death for adults under 55. The CDC did not release state rates for suicides. Now, life expectancy is decreasing.

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). 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", Humphreys wrote in an email.

Appleby, who overcame her own battles with mental illness, says she is a little surprised though at the national stat that shows the suicide rate is up 26% among men since 1999 but up 53% among women in that time.

"So the frustration that many of us feel is that there are things that could save many lives", he said, "and we are failing to make those services available".

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