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While Life Expectancy Rises Around the World, U.S. Sees Second Year of Decline; Drug Overdoses are Major Contributor

December 21, 2017

A new report from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that Americans' life expectancy fell to 78.6 years, a slight decrease of 0.1 years. The fact that this is the second straight year of decline concerns experts, who see a direct link with drug overdose mortality.

An unexpected fact is that the decline in life expectancy occurred despite an overall decline in U.S. mortality. Mortality rates are based on current factors. Life expectancy is affected by mortality rates, but life expectancy calculations are forward-looking projections.

During 2016, life expectancy for males decreased 0.2 years, but females’ life expectancy remained the same. Death rates between 2015 and 2016 increased for younger age groups and decreased for older age groups.

The ten leading causes of death during 2016 were heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease, and suicide.

The Center issued a second report that found that drug overdoses killed 63,600 Americans in 2016, a 21 percent increase from the prior year. The increase is a result of a doubling in the rate of deaths from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Overdose deaths count as injuries, and unintentional injuries became the third-leading cause of death during 2016, moving up from fourth place during 2015. The substantial increase could be, in part, due to under-reporting of drug overdoses in previous years.

Pennsylvania had the fifth highest rate of drug overdose deaths last year, reporting nearly 40 deaths per 100,000 people, along with Ohio, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia. West Virginia had the highest rate with 52 deaths per 100,000 people.

The studies reflect the growing impact that the opioid epidemic is having across the nation. The significant impact on quality of life, community health, the health care system, jobs and the economy, and government policy is significant.

HAP continues to engage with the many stakeholder groups seeking to address the crisis, as well as with state and federal lawmakers and regulators. Opioid use, unlike other drugs, alters brain chemistry, and ultimately leads to powerful addiction. That addiction must be treated as a chronic disease, which also has complicating implications on behavioral health. Many long-term supports must be put in place for those who are addicted, as well as the families torn apart by the disease.

For information about HAP’s work to address the opioid crisis, contact Dr. Michael Consuelos, HAP’s senior vice president, clinical integration.

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