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U.S. Life Expectancy Dropped for the Third Year in a Row. Drugs and Suicide Are Partly to Blame

Life expectancy for the average person in the us dropped slightly in 2017, marking the second time in recent years that USA life expectancy has fallen, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Accidental drug overdoses account for more than a third of the unintentional injury deaths, and intentional drug overdoses account for about a tenth of the suicides, said Dr. Holly Hedegaard, a CDC injury researcher.

CDC figures showed that a total of 70,237 people in the United States died of overdoses in 2017, almost 6,600 more than in 2016. CDC analysis of preliminary 2018 drug overdose figures indicates that the increase in deaths may be slowing, but it is unclear if this trend will have persisted through the rest of the year.

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. In 2015, however, after years of recession and in the midst of a worsening opioid drug epidemic, the United States became the only wealthy nation where the measure was falling. Death rates rose in particular for adults ages 25 to 44.

Dr. Larissa Mooney, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved with the CDC reports, said that she's particularly concerned about the numbers; specifically, "the rise in number of Americans dying from drug overdoses every year".

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at a health conference in October, when that data came out, that the "seemingly relentless trend of rising overdose deaths seems to be finally bending in the right direction". The highest overdose rates were also concentrated in only a handful of states, including West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

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These co-occurrent trends have caused some commentators to invoke economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton's notion of "deaths of despair", deaths brought about by declining social capital and happiness amid an increasingly deracinated society. Kentucky had a death rate of 37.2, which is above the national average. Last year's 13 percent increase in opioid deaths was due nearly entirely to a 47 percent increase in deaths involving fentanyl and its analogs, since deaths involving heroin and pain pills stayed about the same, while deaths involving methadone fell.

Life expectancy was 78.6 years in 2017, down from 78.7 years in 2016, the CDC said.

As usual, women will continue to outlive men.

The average life expectancy in the U.S. declined from 78.7 to 78.6 years. The new numbers take that through 2017.

Suicide rates for females aged 10-74 were higher in 2017 than in 1999. In years past, declines in heart disease deaths were enough to offset increases in some other kinds of death, but no longer, Anderson said. The life expectancy for women in 2017 was 81.1 years, the same as the previous year. Meanwhile, there were increases in seven others - suicide, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer's, flu/pneumonia, chronic lower respiratory diseases and unintentional injuries. In the previous year there were 45,000 suicides. In 1999, the death rate was just 6.1 per 100,000. The rate increased by an average of 10 percent per year from 1999 to 2006, by 3 percent per year from 2006 to 2014, and a staggering 16 percent per year from 2014 to 2017.

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