Rick Bowmer / AP
For the second time in three years, life expectancy in the United States has declined. In three reports released on Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented a series of statistics revealing worrying trends, including a rapid rise in the number of deaths from drug overdose and suicide.
CDC director Robert Redfield called the data "troubling".
"Life expectancy gives us a glimpse of the general state of health of the country.These alarming statistics remind us that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to the benefit of avoidable conditions. ", he said in a statement released Thursday.
Redfield has linked the decline in overall life expectancy, which has averaged 78.6 years in 2017, a decrease of 0.1% over the previous year, increase in the number of overdose deaths and suicides.
According to the CDC, more than 70,000 people died from a drug overdose last year alone. This number represents an increase of almost 10% over 2016 and the highest ever recorded in the United States for a single year. In comparison, about 17,000 people died of an overdose in 1999, the first year for which the CDC reported data on Thursday.
Recently, this increase is partly due to the opioid epidemic and a sharp increase in the number of deaths related to synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl – an impressive 45% jump in one year, between 2016 and 2017.
"It is striking that there are more people dying from an overdose in 2017 than at the height of the HIV epidemic or traffic-related death rates." the highest we've seen in this country, "says Kathryn McHugh, of Harvard Medical School at Richard NPR Harris.
At the same time, suicide rates have also increased steadily, according to the CDC, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the United States – and the second most common cause of death among people aged 10 to 34 . data on drug use, which shows that people aged 25 to 54 die at a higher rate than their older counterparts.
In other words, it was the young adults who were hit the hardest.
"We are seeing a decline in life expectancy not because we are reaching a ceiling [for lifespans of] people in their 80s. We are seeing a decline in life expectancy because people are dying in their twenties [and] 30 years old, "said McHugh.
Now, the reports published by the CDC did not offer only bad news. The data also reflects a decline in the cancer death rate, down 2.1% between 2016 and 2017.
But in general, according to William Dietz of George Washington University, the main themes of the reports are "very troubling" – in part because deaths from overdoses and suicides are probably related. Both can be caused by social changes in the United States that have caused people to become "less connected to each other in communities," he told Harris.
"Some data suggest that this has led to feelings of hopelessness, which could lead to increased suicide rates and certainly addictive behaviors."
McHugh also sees a connection between these two more and more common causes of death.
"It has sometimes been assumed that overdoses fall into one of two categories: intentional or not," she says. She notes that many people may have suicidal thoughts before an overdose or that others may commit suicide to escape the addiction. "There is a lot of overlap between the two that we do not talk about enough."
In the end, she makes the same argument as the CDC director: these are causes of death that should be preventable. And while efforts to combat the opioid epidemic are beginning to stem the tide, "she says," we need to do a lot more. "
"It's not enough to try to prevent the rise of this rate," says McHugh. "We have to start seeing this rate go down."
CDC report on life expectancy
CDC report on drug overdoses
CDC report on suicides