Soaring overdose deaths cut US life expectancy for 2nd year

NEW YORK — U.S. deaths from drug overdoses skyrocketed 21 per cent last year, and for the second straight year dragged down how long Americans are expected to live.

The government figures released Thursday put drug deaths at 63,600, up from about 52,000 in 2015. For the first time, the powerful painkiller fentanyl and its close opioid cousins played a bigger role in the deaths than any other legal or illegal drug, surpassing prescription pain pills and heroin.

“This is urgent and deadly,” said Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The opioid epidemic “clearly has a huge impact on our entire society.”

Two-thirds of last year’s drug deaths — about 42,000 — involved opioids, a category that includes heroin, methadone, prescription pain pills like OxyContin, and fentanyl. Fatal overdoses that involved fentanyl and fentanyl-like drugs doubled in one year, to more than 19,000, mostly from illegally made pills or powder, which is often mixed with heroin or other drugs.

Heroin was tied to 15,500 deaths and prescription painkillers to 14,500 deaths. The balance of the overdose deaths involved sedatives, cocaine and methamphetamines. More than one drug is often involved in an overdose death.

The highest drug death rates were in ages 25 to 54.

Preliminary 2017 figures show the rise in overdose deaths continuing.

The drug deaths weigh into CDC’s annual calculation of the average time a person is expected to live. The life expectancy figure is based on the year of their birth, current death trends and other factors. For decades, it was on the upswing, rising a few months nearly every year. But last year marked the first time in more than a half century that U.S. life expectancy fell two consecutive years.

A baby born last year in the U.S. is expected to live about 78 years and 7 months, on average, the CDC said. An American born in 2015 was expected to live about a month longer and one born in 2014 about two months longer than that.

The dip in 2015 was blamed on drug deaths and an unusual upturn in the death rate for the nation’s leading killer, heart disease. Typically, life expectancy goes back up after a one-year decline, said Robert Anderson, who oversees the CDC’s death statistics. The last time there was a two-year drop was 1962-1963. It also happened twice in the 1920s.

“If we don’t get a handle on this,” he said, “we could very well see a third year in a row. With no end in sight.”

A three-year decline happened in 1916, 1917 and 1918, which included the worst flu pandemic in modern history.

Overall, there were more than 2.7 million U.S. deaths in 2016, or about 32,000 more than the previous year. It was the most deaths in a single year since the government has been counting. That partly reflects the nation’s growing and aging population. But death rates last year continued to go down for people who are 65 and older while going up for all younger adults — those most affected by the opioid epidemic.

The CDC also reported :

—West Virginia continued to be the state with highest drug overdose death rate, with a rate of 52 deaths per 100,000 state residents in 2016. Ohio and New Hampshire were next, both at about 39 per 100,000.

—Life expectancy for men decreased, but it held steady for women. That increased the gender gap to five years; about 76 for men and 81 for women.

—U.S. death rates decreased for seven of the 10 leading causes of death, but rose for suicide, Alzheimer’s disease and for a category called unintentional injuries (which includes drug overdoses).

—Accidental injuries displaced chronic lower respiratory diseases to become the nation’s third leading cause of death. Contributing were increases in deaths from car crashes and falls.

—Gun deaths rose for a second year, to nearly 39,000. They had been hovering around 33,500 deaths a few years ago.

The United States ranks below dozens of other high-income countries in life expectancy, according to the World Bank. Highest is Japan, at nearly 84 years.

“The fact that U.S. has basically stagnated over the past seven years — and now we’re seeing small declines — is a real sign that the U.S. is doing badly,” said Jessica Ho, a University of Southern California researcher who studies death trends.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jason Aquino has been adding to his front lawn Halloween display for the past five years. “I wanted to do it big this year, because even in the pandemic, we can still enjoy Halloween,” says the Red Deer father.
Halloween spookiness rises to new level

Rare astronomical occurrence caps off a strange holiday

Alberta Health Services' central zone jumped from 162 active COVID-19 cases to 178 on Friday. Five additional deaths were reported provincewide, bringing the toll to 323. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
622 new COVID-19 cases set another daily high Friday

Province confirmed 622 additional cases Friday

Advocate file photo
Man awaiting murder trial facing two new trials for breaching release conditions

Quentin Strawberry going to trial in March in connection with 2019 murder

Ecole La Prairie students and teachers dressed up in Halloween costumes and paraded by Barrett Kiwanis Place, while waving at the building’s residents in Red Deer on Friday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Ecole La Prairie students parade in Halloween costumes for Red Deer seniors

Dozens of Red Deer students put on their Halloween costumes to spread… Continue reading

Advocate file photo
Preliminary hearing set for Walmart shooting suspect

Chase Freed facing second-degree murder and attempted murder charges

Over the years, Janice Blackie-Goodine’s home in Summerland has featured elaborate Halloween displays and decorations each October. (File photo)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about Halloween?

Oct. 31 is a night of frights. How much do you know about Halloween customs and traditions?

ll
Imagining the origins of Halloween

Long ago and far away, a small assemblage of English people gathered… Continue reading

Red Deer College president Peter Nunoda. (Photo by contributed)
Peter Nunoda: Winter term will be busier on RDC campus

In my column last month, I shared details about Red Deer College’s… Continue reading

Canada Artistic Swimming plans to ‘rip off the band-aid’ to create better environment

Canada Artistic Swimming plans to ‘rip off the band-aid’ to create better environment

North Carolina's Myles Dorn (1) celebrates a big stop with teammate Patrice Rene (5) during the first quarter of the team's NCAA college football game against Miami in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. Canadian Rene appears set to return to North Carolina's lineup in time for the No. 15 Tarheels' rivalry game against Virginia and a potential all-Canadian showdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Chris Seward
Canadian Patrice Rene appears set to return to North Carolina’s lineup after injury

Canadian Patrice Rene appears set to return to North Carolina’s lineup after injury

Regina Pats defenceman Cale Fleury (4) tries to clear OHL Hamilton Bulldogs forward Nicholas Caamano (10) from in front of the net during third period Memorial Cup semifinal action in Regina on Friday, May, 25, 2018. The Ontario Hockey League will not have bodychecking this coming season. Lisa MacLeod, Ontario's minister of sport, confirmed the decision on Friday afternoon.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
MacLeod: No bodychecking allowed in upcoming Ontario Hockey League season

MacLeod: No bodychecking allowed in upcoming Ontario Hockey League season

Colorado Avalanche goalie Pavel Francouz (39) makes the save on Minnesota Wild's Alex Galchenyuk (27) during third period NHL exhibition game action in Edmonton, on Wednesday July 29, 2020. Galchenyuk says his new team is getting a motivated player with something to prove. The forward signed a one-year, US$1.05-million contract with the Ottawa Senators in free agency earlier this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alex Galchenyuk eager for fresh start with Senators: ‘I have a lot to prove’

Alex Galchenyuk eager for fresh start with Senators: ‘I have a lot to prove’

Bayern's Alphonso Davies, right, challenges PSG's Thilo Kehrer, left, during the Champions League final soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich at the Luz stadium in Lisbon, Portugal, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020. Canadians Alphonso Davies, Will Johnson, Pat Onstad and Dwayne De Rosario are among the 134 finalists for Major League Soccer's "25 Greatest" players. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Miguel A. Lopes/Pool
Davies, DeRo join Beckham, Giovinco and others as finalists for MLS’ ‘25 Greatest’

Davies, DeRo join Beckham, Giovinco and others as finalists for MLS’ ‘25 Greatest’

Michael Jordan’s NASCAR team partners with Gibbs, Toyota

Michael Jordan’s NASCAR team partners with Gibbs, Toyota

Most Read