The Grapevine

US Life Expectancy Drops As Drug Overdose, Suicide Rates Rise

How long can Americans expect to live on average? Estimates have shown this figure to be on a decline over the past few years. Unfortunately, the latest data shows no signs of change in the trend.

According to the government report, the average person born in 2017 was estimated to live up to 78.6 years — a decrease of 0.1 years when compared to corresponding 2016 estimates. At first glance, this "drop" may not seem like something to actually worry about. But it marks the third annual decline in a row after American life expectancy peaked in 2014.

"The data continued the longest sustained decline in expected life span at birth in a century, an appalling performance not seen in the United States since 1915 through 1918," noted Lenny Bernstein, writing for the Washington Post. In this context, it is only logical to examine the leading causes of death to see what has driven the change. 

The top ten causes, which did not change between 2016 and 2017, listed heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease, and suicide.

"Tragically, this troubling trend is largely driven by deaths from drug overdose and suicide," said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Indeed, the release was accompanied by two additional reports which took a closer look at overdoses and suicides in the nation. Deaths caused by drug overdose saw an increase from 63,632 in 2016 to 70,237 in 2017. While the 25-to-54 age group saw the highest prevalence, men were at higher risk of overdose-related death than women.

Death by suicide saw a 3.7 percent increase between 2016 and 2017. In this case, though prevalence is higher in men, women experienced a more significant uptick. While male suicide rate rose by 26 percent between 1999 and 2017, the female suicide rate rose by 53 percent over the same period.

"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," Dr. Redfield added. "We must all work together to reverse this trend and help ensure that all Americans live longer and healthier."

Heart disease remained the leading cause of death among Americans. The report did reveal some encouraging statistics as deaths caused by cancer decreased by more than 2 percent. It suggests that research, treatment, and awareness around the disease is improving in all subgroups of the population.

If you have thoughts of suicide, confidential help is available for free at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255. The line is available 24 hours, every day.