Sprains of fentanyl, an opioid analgesic, are in an inpatient facility in Salt Lake City. According to Centers for Disease…
Rick Bowmer / AP
For the second time in three years, life expectancy in the United States has crossed downwards. In three reports issued Thursday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prepared a series of statistics that revealed some worrying trendlines – including rapidly increasing deaths from overdoses and suicide abuse.
CDC Director Robert Redfield described data as “worried.”
“Expected life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the nation’s overall health and this weird statistic is a wake-up call we lose to many Americans, too early and often to conditions that can be prevented, “he said in a statement released Thursday.
Redfield banned the overall life expectancy, which, on average, 78.6 years in 2017, a decrease of 0.1 from the previous year, to the increase in deaths from overdose and suicide.
Over 70,000 people died of overdoses of drugs last year, according to CDC. That number marks an almost 10 percent increase from 2016 and the highest ever in the US in a year. By comparison, only about 17,000 people were killed by overdoses in 1999, the earliest year that CDC offered data on Thursday.
Recently, the increase has been partly driven by opioid epidemics and a sharp blow in the number of deaths involving synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl – an amazing 45-percent increase in a year between 2016 and 2017.
“It’s striking to see that there are more people who died of overdose in 2017 than at the peak of the HIV epidemic or the highest degree of road accidents we have seen in this country, “says Kathryn McHugh at Harvard Medical School for NPR Richard Harris.
At the same time, suicide rates have also risen steadily, according to CDC, the 10th leading cause of death in the United States – and the second most common cause of death for people aged 10 to 34. The age range fluctuates with drug abuse data, which showed that people who filled 25 to 54 die at a higher rate than their older counterparts.  In other words, younger adults have been hit hardest by these trends to a large extent.
“We see the decline in life expectancy not because we hit a lock [for lifespans of] people in the 80’s. We see a decrease in life expectancy because people die in their 20s [and]],” says McHugh.
The CDC reports now not only show bad news. The data also reflects a decreasing rate of people who die of cancer, down 2.1 percent from 2016 to 2017.
But generally, says William Dietz from George Washington University , the most important themes in the reports are “very disturbing” – partly because deaths from overdose and suicide are likely to be linked. 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 tells Harris.
“There are some data suggesting that it leads to a sense of hopelessness, which in turn can lead to an increase in suicide rate and certainly addictive behavior. “
McHugh also sees a connection between these two more common causes of death.
” It has sometimes been assumed that overdose fits into one of two categories: they are intentional or they are unintentional, “she says. She notes that many people may have suicidal thoughts before an overdose or that others can kill to avoid abuse. “There is a huge overlap between the two who are not talking about almost enough.”
In the end, she makes a similar point as the CDC director: there are causes of death that should be prevented. And while the efforts to fight the opioid epidemic “start setting at the tide,” she says, “we have to do a lot more.”
“It’s not enough to just keep this interest from escalation,” adds McHugh. “We must start to see this course go down.”