The average life expectancy in the U.S. has declined for the second consecutive year, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reversing a decades-long trend by coming in at 78.6 years.
A two-year decline in the average life expectancy in America has not happened since 1962 and 1963.
The chief statistician of the CDC's Mortality Statistics Branch says that while it is difficult to pinpoint the direct cause of dropping life expectancy, there are noticeable changing trends when it comes to cardiovascular diseases and drug overdoses.
“Drug overdose mortality been going up for the last decade, but in the past, those increases have been more than completely offset by the decline in cardiovascular disease mortality," Bob Anderson told Circa.
"But now, with an essential flat rate for cardiovascular disease, the increase in drug overdose deaths have risen to prominence and they’re sort of driving the overall pattern, which is not something that we saw earlier in the last decade or so.”
Anderson also explained that the rate of increase in drug overdoses from 2015 to 2016 was greater than any other one-year increase seen before in a year.
The CDC's report said about 30,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2015. That total doubled to nearly 60,000 the next year.
Most of those deaths were opioid-related, though Anderson said there has also been a substantial increase in synthetic opioids.
The deaths stem from drugs including fentanyl, a dangerous and highly-addictive medication that is typically used after surgery to ease pain.
The CDC's alarming findings come about three months after President Trump declared the opioid crisis in America a public health emergency.
"Nobody has seen anything like what is going on now."
Although a 0.1 drop in the average U.S. life expectancy from last year does not sound immediately concerning, Anderson said it adds up to many years lost, especially since the overall average has dropped 0.3 years since 2014.
"But if you think about this in the aggregate, the way life expectancy is calculated, it accumulates up the average number of years lived, so a decline in 0.1 year in population terms, we're talking about a lot of years of life that aren't being lived, a lot of lives being cut short," he noted. "It's not a trivial thing, even though it seems like not very much."
Drug mortality has such a significant impact on the overall average life expectancy rate, Anderson explained, because it is mostly concentrated among young people.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation - an organization that provides in-depth information on key health policy issues - the highest number of opioid-related deaths by age occurred between the 25 to 34 age range.
“The takeaway from all of this is that we’ve got a pretty serious problem here," Anderson said. "It’s not just in the background anymore."
"It’s affecting overall mortality. I’m concerned that if we don’t get a handle on this, that we’re going to see a fairly length period of time where we’ve got declining life expectancy.”
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