Suicides and drug overdoses pushed up the total number of U.S. deaths and thereby drove down Americans’ life expectancy according to a newly released report.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were 2.8 million U.S. deaths in 2017, which was nearly a 70,000 person increase from the previous year.
After several decades of increasing, life expectancy has decreased the last two years.
Americans could live 78.6 years as of 2017, down 0.1 from 2016. For men the life expectancy was 76.1 years, down from 76.3, while women held steady at 81.1 years.
Part of the higher death rate is due to the nation’s growing and aging population; however, increased deaths among younger, particularly middle-aged people, is having the greatest impact on the life expectancy number.
The suicide death rate hit its highest number in nearly 50 years — approximately 47,000 — a jump of about 2,000 from 2016.
Drug overdose deaths also rose last year, surpassing 70,000, which is a 10 percent increase from the previous year.
Between 2006 and 2016, death rates for suicide increased by 23 percent and for drug overdose by 72 percent.
“These sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC’s director, said in a statement.
Dr. William Dietz, with George Washington University, added, “I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless, and that that leads to drug use, it leads potentially to suicide.”
Eric Caine, professor of psychiatry and director of the Injury Control Research Center for Suicide Prevention at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said the increasing deaths due to suicide and drug overdose should serve as a warning.
“The continuation of this trend is a warning for all of us that our country has not found a way of addressing the profound needs of the people who are dying,” Caine told The Wall Street Journal. “While the economy may be recovering at the macro level, it’s very uncertain whether it’s affecting the lives of these people.”
Among the good news in the CDC statistics is that the cancer death rate fell in 2017, continuing a trend begun in the 1990s. Cancer remains the nation’s No. 2 cause of death behind heart disease.
“That’s kind of our saving grace,” Dr. Bob Anderson with the CDC said of the falling number of cancer deaths. “Without those declines, we’d see a much bigger drop in life expectancy.”
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranks 29th in the world for life expectancy.
The top two nations are Japan at 84.1 years and Switzerland at 83.7 years.
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