Life expectancy in the USA continues to fall

New Hamphire State Drug Laboratory

New Hamphire State Drug Laboratory

Drug overdoses and suicides helped fuel an increase in deaths in the US last year, and also impacted the continued decline in life expectancy for Americans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday.

Life expectancy dropped to 78.6 years in 2017, down from 78.7 in 2016, contributing to the longest-running decline in USA history since World War I, when a flu pandemic killed nearly 700,000 people nationwide between 1915 and 1918.

By the revised measure, life expectancy in 2015 and 2016 was flat, at 78.7, a decline from 78.9 in 2014.

As you can see in the map (linked here and embedded below), the areas most affected by high rates of death are concentrated in the Southeast and parts of the Southwest. Suicide rates were also the highest in 50 years with more than 47,000 in 2017. At the same time, there are plenty of areas where the maps don't align. For additional context, In 1999 the death rate for drug overdoses among men was around 8 in every 100,000 individuals.

Regardless of what's driving the trend, it feels especially dire in a country as rich as this one.

"Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the nation's overall health and these sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable", he said. The death rate for heart disease, the nation's number one killer, has also stopped falling.

"I think this is a very dismal picture of health in the United States", said Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Life expectancy in the US rose a few months a year for decades. By comparison, the rate for women has increased from four per 100,000 to 14.


Monaco and Japan now have the longest life expectancies in the world at 89 and 85 years. The opioid epidemic continued to take a relentless toll, with 47,600 deaths in 2017 from drugs sold on the street such as fentanyl and heroin, as well as prescription narcotics.

Deaths by suicide have also spiked.

But the increase in drug overdose deaths has started to slow.

"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.

Among the 10 leading causes of death, only cancer deaths fell while there were increases in suicide, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer's, flu/pneumonia, chronic lower respiratory diseases and unintentional injuries. By comparison, only about 17,000 people died of overdoses in 1999, the earliest year for which the CDC offered data Thursday.

Drug overdose deaths accounted for 70,237 deaths previous year - almost 10% higher than in 2016 - with a significantly higher rate of death among men, compared to women.

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.

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).

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