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US life expectancy sinks for second year in a row due to drug overdoses

Life expectancy in the United States fell for the second year in a row in 2016 as a result of drug overdoses. The government admitted on Thursday that the epidemic of drug overdoses was to blame.

Published: December 21, 2017, 7:47 am

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    Overdose deaths accounted for a large proportion of mortality, the NCHS found. Some 63 600 people died of drug overdoses in 2016. “The majority of these overdose deaths were unintentional,” the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) team leader Dr. Holly Hedegaard, noted.

    Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and tramadol, contributed significantly to the spike as well as an increase in heroin deaths, the NCHS found.

    Overdose deaths are counted as “injuries” with “unintentional injuries” now listed as the third leading cause of death in 2016 in the United States after heart disease and cancer. “Chronic lower respiratory diseases, the third leading cause in 2015, became the fourth leading cause in 2016,” according to the NCHS.

    Men were far more likely to die from drug overdoses than women. Other reports, however, have found the number of opiate overdoses among women rising too.

    The death rate from drug overdoses increased by 18 percent a year from 2014 to 2016, the team reported. In 1999, 6.1 per 100 000 people died from drug overdoses; by 2016, the death rate had shot up to 19.8 per 100 000.

    While overall life expectancy for a baby born in 2016 fell to 78.6 years, a decline of 0.1 percent, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) said, mortality from drug overdoses rose by 21 percent during the same period.

    “This was the first time life expectancy in the US has declined two years in a row since declines in 1962 and 1963,” the NCHS statement pointed out.

    “The new report shows the decline in life expectancy occurred despite an overall decline in US mortality,” the statement added.

    The numbers also revealed that the infant mortality rate had barely changed in 2016. It nevertheless falls behind the numbers of other developed countries.

    “The 10 leading causes of infant death in 2016 accounted for 67.5 percent of all infant deaths in the United States,” the report noted. In 2016, 23 161 babies under the age of 1 year died in America, which amounts to 294 fewer deaths than in 2015.

    Life expectancy is affected by mortality rates, but several factors influence mortality rates, including the age of the overall population. It means that life expectancy may decrease even if mortality decrease.

    The number of Americans that died — not the rate — went up in 2016, however. More than 2.7 million people died in the US, with a total of 31 618 more deaths than in 2015.

    As in many other countries, American men die younger than women. Male life expectancy fell from 76.3 years in 2015 to 76.1 in 2016, while female life expectancy remained the same at 81.1, the NCHS said.

    Americans who were 65 years old in 2016 can expect to live another 19 years, according to the NCHS projections. It means almost 21 years more for women and 18 years more for men.

    US life expectancy compares unfavourably to other rich, developed countries. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development index of life expectancy, the US average is in between Chile and Turkey, lagging far behind Britain, France or even Greece.

    Iceland, Switzerland and Japan boast the longest life expectancies and South Africa the lowest.

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