US Life Expectancy Decreases Second Straight Year As Opioid Overdoses Rise

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

Life expectancy in the U.S. dropped for the second straight year in 2016, which proved the deadliest yet for drug overdose deaths, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For both men and women, life expectancy dropped from 78.7 to 78.6, according to a report from The National Center for Health Statistics, an arm of the CDC. At the same time, the report found drug overdose deaths surged in 2016 by 21 percent, claiming 63,000 lives. The increase is driven primarily by opioids, which claimed 42,249 lives last year, a 28 percent increase over the roughly 33,000 lives lost to opioids in 2015, reports The Washington Post.

Opioid overdose made up a staggering 66 percent of all drug overdose deaths in 2016, surpassing the annual number of lives lost to breast cancer. Deaths from synthetic opioids like fentanyl, a painkiller roughly 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, experienced a particularly dramatic increase, more than doubling from 9,580 lives in 2015 to 19,413 lives last year.

Officials say the epidemic is contributing to declining life expectancy in the U.S. Life expectancy dropped for the second consecutive year in 2016 for the first time since an outbreak of influenza in 1962 and 1963.

Addiction experts fear the death toll is likely higher than the official statistics shows, pointing to research suggesting federal data may be undercounting opioid deaths by as much as 20 percent.

“It’s even worse than it looks,” Keith Humphreys, an addiction specialist at Stanford University, told The Washington Post. “We could easily be at 50,000 opioid deaths last year. This means that even if you ignored deaths from all other drugs, the opioid epidemic alone is deadlier than the AIDS epidemic at its peak.”

President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a “public health emergency” on Oct. 26, giving states hit hard by opioid addiction flexibility on how they direct federal resources to combat rising drug deaths.

Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse released Sept. 7 paints a grim outlook for the future of the drug crisis ravaging American communities.

The study predicts the addiction epidemic in America will continue to deteriorate, pushing drug deaths to an estimated 71,600 in 2017. If the estimates prove accurate, 2017 will be the second year in a row drug deaths surpass U.S. casualties from the Vietnam War.

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