U.S. Life Expectancy Drops Again

According to a report from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), life expectancy declined in the United States in 2016 for the second year in a row. The last time the U.S. life expectancy dropped over a consecutive period was in the 1960s.

Drug overdose deaths, which increased 21 percent in 2016, appear to be the main cause for the decline. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl continue their scourge: The rate of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids doubled between 2015 and 2016, from 3.1 to 6.2 deaths per 100,000, according to the NCHS report.

“We need to pay attention to this,” Bob Anderson, chief of the NCHS Mortality Statistics Branch, told HealthDay reporters. “This is something akin to what we saw with the HIV epidemic, but it’s gone well beyond what we saw with the HIV epidemic in terms of magnitude.”

On the other hand, death rates for most chronic diseases either remained stable or decreased, including heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, and diabetes. “While we’re doing a good job of treating chronic physical diseases, we’re not making the same progress with chronic brain diseases,” Lindsey Vuolo, associate director of health law and policy at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, explained to HealthDay. “If we start treating addiction the way we treat other diseases, with a health-based approach funded at a level commensurate with the size and scope of the problem, we will overcome this crisis.”

Sources: NPR News, December 21, 2017; HealthDay, December 21, 2017.