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CDC Data: Life Expectancy Decreases as Deaths From Suicide, Drug Overdose Increase


New reports from the CDC have highlighted troubling increasing trends in suicides and drug overdose rates as life expectancy in the United States declined.

New reports from the CDC have highlighted troubling increasing trends in suicides and drug overdose rates as life expectancy in the United States declined.

In 2017, the life expectancy for someone at birth in the United States was 78.6 years, which is a slight decline from 78.7 years in 2016.1 At age 65, the life expectancy for the total population was 19.5 years, which was a slightly increased from 2016 (19.4 years).

Life expectancy for females is consistently higher than it is for males. While total life expectancy for males had decreased from 76.2 years in 2016 to 76.1 years in 2017, female life expectancy stayed the same at 81.1 years. At age 65, the difference in life expectancy between females and males narrowed slightly to 2.5 years (20.6 years for females and 18.1 years for males).

The report showed that death rates for some age groups increased significantly year over year. The death rate for the 25 to 34 age group increased the most (2.9%), followed by the 35 to 44 age group (1.6%) and the 85 and over age group (1.4%). In comparison, the death rate decreased 1% for the 45 to 54 age group.

From 2016 to 2017 the 10 leading causes of death remained the same: heart diseases, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease, and suicide. Age-adjusted death rates increased for 7 of the 10 causes with the rate increasing the most for influenza and pneumonia (5.9%), unintentional injuries (4.2%), and suicide (3.7%). The rate for cancer decreased 2.1%, while the rates for heart disease and kidney disease did not change significantly.

A separate report delved specifically into drug overdose deaths from 1999 to 2017, and it found that there were 70,237 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2017.2 The age-adjusted rate of drug overdoses was 9.6% higher in 2017 compared with 2016.

There had been a sharp increase in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, and tramadol, from 2016 to 2017. The age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone increased by 45%. The report highlighted how steep the increase was over the years. While the average rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids increased by 8% per year from 1999 to 2013, the average rate increased by 71% per year from 2013 to 2017.

There were 20 states, plus the District of Columbia, that had drug overdose death rates higher than the national rate in 2017. West Virginia (57.8 deaths per 100,000 people), Ohio (46.3), and Pennsylvania (44.3) had the highest age-adjusted drug overdose rates, while Texas (10.5), North Dakota (9.2), South Dakota (8.5), and Nebraska (8.1) had the lowest death rates.

Rates of drug overdose deaths are significantly higher for males than females. The rate for males increased from 8.2 per 100,000 standardized population in 1999 to 29.1 in 2017. For females, the rate increased from 3.9 to 14.4. However, the rate for females increased more sharply.

“The latest CDC data show that the US life expectancy has declined over the past few years,” Robert R. Redfield, MD, CDC director, said in a statement. “Tragically, this troubling trend is largely driven by deaths from drug overdose and suicide. 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.”

1. Murphy SL, Xu JQ, Kochanek KD, Arias E. Mortality in the United States, 2017. NCHS Data Brief, no 328. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2018.

2. Hedegaard H, Miniño AM, Warner M. Drug overdose deaths in the United States, 1999—2017. NCHS Data Brief, no 329. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2018.


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