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Opioid Overdose Deaths Cause Drop in U.S. Life Expectancy for Second Year in a Row

Dec. 21, 2017 (EIRNS)—The opioid addiction crisis is ravaging the United States—both its current and future generations if not dealt with. According to statistics just released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), life expectancy in the United States has declined for the second year in a row, dropping from 78.9 in 2014 to 78.6 in 2016. This is the first time in half a century that there have been two consecutive years of declining life expectancy.

National Public Radio (NPR) worries about the trend "because life expectancy is considered an important indicator of the general wellbeing of a nation."

The NCHS reports that in 2016 the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. was more than three times that of 1999. In 2016, there were 63,600 overdose deaths, a 21% increase over the previous year. In 1999, age-adjusted overdose deaths stood at 6.1 per 100,000 standard population; that figure rose to 19.8 in 2016. On average, the overdose death rate increased by 10% per year from 1999 to 2006; 3% from 2006 to 2014; and 18% per year from 2014 to 2016. The rate of overdose deaths increased for all age groups between 1999 and 2016, but for 2016, rates were highest among ages 25-34 and 45-54 at 35 deaths per 100,000 people.

As The Guardian pointed out today, five states topped even those numbers. West Virginia nearly tripled the national average—with 52 people per 100,000 dying of an overdose. Ohio, New Hampshire, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania followed next, with about 38 overdose deaths for every 100,000 people.

Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at NCHS, told The Guardian that there is an occasional one-year dip in life expectancy statistics, but two consecutive years "is quite striking." Preliminary figures for 2017 "don’t look any better" he added. Especially alarming, according to NCHS, is that the rate of deaths from synthetic opioids—fentanyl or heroin laced with fentanyl—doubled, from 3.1 deaths per 100,000 to 6.2. Anderson commented that on deaths from synthetic opioids, "we’re talking about more than an exponential increase."

"I’m not prone to dramatic statements," Anderson told NPR,

"but I think we should be really alarmed. The drug overdose problem is a public health problem, and it needs to be addressed. We need to get a handle on it."

Anna Lembke, an addiction expert from Stanford University warned

"we’ve got multiple generations of people that are already addicted, and it’s going to be a real struggle to help those people. This is going to take a good 10 to 20 years to really turn around."