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Drug overdoses, suicides cause drop in 2017 US life expectancy; CDC director calls it a 'wakeup call'

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.

Posted: Nov 29, 2018 11:38 AM
Updated: Nov 29, 2018 4:07 PM

Life expectancy in the United States declined from 2016 to 2017, yet the 10 leading causes of death remained the same, according to three government reports released Thursday. Increasing deaths due to drug overdoses and suicides explain this slight downtick in life expectancy, the US Centers for Disease Control says.

Overdose deaths reached a new high in 2017, topping 70,000, while the suicide rate increased by 3.7%, the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics reports.

Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC director, called the trend tragic and troubling. "Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation's overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable," he wrote in a statement.

General US death rates

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.

As usual, women will continue to outlive men. In both 2016 and 2017, female life expectancy was 81.1 years, while male life expectancy dropped from 76.2 years in 2016 to 76.1 in 2017.

The number of resident deaths recorded in the nation totaled more than 2.8 million in 2017, about 69,000 more than in 2016, the report shows. Naturally, this increase affects the overall death rate, which is annually adjusted to account for the changing age of the general population. The rate increased from nearly 729 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016 to nearly 732 deaths in 2017 -- a rise of 0.4%.

Most races and ethnic groups, including black males, Hispanic males and Hispanic females, saw no significant changes in their death rate year over year.

However, black females experienced a 0.8% decreasing death rate in 2017 over the previous year, meaning they lived a bit longer, while the rate increased by 0.6% for white males and by 0.9% for white females.

Finally, the 10 leading causes of death in 2017, accounting for nearly three-quarters of all deaths across the nation, were heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease and suicide. This grim "top 10 list" remained unchanged from the previous year.

Drug overdose deaths

Drug overdose deaths among US residents totaled 70,237 in 2017, nearly 6,600 more than in 2016, a second government report finds. The rate increased from about 6 overdose deaths per 100,000 people in 1999 to nearly 22 per 100,000 in 2017.

Rates have been consistently and significantly higher for males than females throughout the years, increasing from about 8 men dying of an overdose per 100,000 in 1999 to about 29 men per 100,000 in 2017. Among women, the rate increased from about 4 overdose deaths per 100,000 in 1999 to about 14 per 100,000 in 2017.

Age was an influencing factor in these deaths, the researchers found. Adults between 25 and 54 experienced the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in 2017. The 25-to-34 group had nearly 38 overdose deaths per 100,000, the 35-to-44 group had 39 per 100,000, and the 45-to-54 group had about 38 per 100,000.

Younger and older people died by overdose less frequently, the report indicates. People between the ages of 15 and 24 experienced about 13 overdose deaths per 100,000, those between 55 and 64 experienced 28 per 100,000, and the 65 and older age group had about 7 deaths per 100,000.

Overall, the greatest increase in drug overdose death rates was among adults between 55 and 64 for the period 1999 to 2017: About 4 deaths per 100,000 occurred in this group in 1999, compared with 28 per 100,000 in 2017.

Place also mattered when it came to drug overdose deaths, with some states registering higher numbers than others, the report shows. The 2017 rate in West Virginia was nearly 58 overdose deaths per 100,000 people, in Ohio about 46 per 100,000, in Pennsylvania about 44 per 100,000, and in the District of Columbia, 44 per 100,000. Meanwhile, Texas (about 10 drug overdose deaths per 100,000), North Dakota (about 9 per 100,000), South Dakota and Nebraska (both about 8 per 100,000) had the lowest rates in 2017.

The heroin overdose death rate remained constant at about 5 deaths per 100,000 people for both 2016 and 2017; that said, it is seven times higher than in 1999. By contrast, overdose deaths involving fentanyl, fentanyl analogs and other synthetic opioids (other than methadone) increased by 45% between 2016 and 2017, rising from about 6 deaths per 100,000 to 9 per 100,000.

Deaths by suicide

Over the past decade, suicide has ranked as the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, a third new final government report reveals. Though constant, the rate has increased over time from about 10 suicides per 100,000 in 1999 to 14 per 100,000 in 2017. And female suicides increased at a higher rate than male suicides during this period, though more men than women die by suicide each year.

Among males, the rate increased 26% between 1999 and 2017, from about 18 suicides per 100,000 to nearly 22 per 100,000.

Among females, the rate increased 53% from 4 suicides per 100,000 in 1999 to nearly 6 per 100,000 in 2017. Women between the ages of 45 and 64 experienced the highest rates in both 1999 (6 suicides per 100,000) and 2017 (nearly 10 suicides per 100,000).

Rates in rural US counties are nearly twice as high as in urban counties, the government statisticians say.

In 1999, the suicide rate for the most rural counties was about 13 per 100,000, compared with nearly 10 per 100,000 in the most urban counties.

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). However, this 2017 urban suicide rate is 16% higher than in 1999 (about 10 per 100,000), while the 2017 suicide rate for the most rural counties is 53% higher than in 1999 (about 13 per 100,000), the report indicates.

"We must all work together to reverse this trend and help ensure that all Americans live longer and healthier," Redfield said in his statement, of the decline in life expectancy. He added that the CDC "is committed to putting science into action to protect U.S. health."

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