US Life Expectancy Drops for Second Year in a Row, Research Points to Opioids

Government researchers suspect the national opioid epidemic has played a major role in the latest decline of the life expectancy rate. Unsplash/Mathew Macquarrie

Life expectancy in the United States has fallen for the second year in a row, dropping from 78.7 to 78.6 for babies born in 2016, data that contradicts a decline in overall U.S mortality rates. “This was the first time life expectancy in the U.S. has declined two years in a row since declines in 1962 and 1963,” the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) confirmed in a statement. “The new report shows the decline in life expectancy occurred despite an overall decline in U.S. mortality,” the statement added.

What causes these conflicting statistics? Government researchers suspect the national opioid epidemic has played a major role in the latest decline of the life expectancy rate; while the mortality rate is calculated based on present factors, life expectancy is a forward-looking projection that takes into account the current state of America’s health and how it may influence premature death in the future.

“In 2016, the 10 leading causes of death (heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease, and suicide) remained the same as in 2015, although two causes exchanged ranks,” reads the 2016 report, published last week. The two leading causes of mortality that swapped ranks were unintentional injuries chronic lower respiratory diseases, with unintentional injuries jumping from the fourth to the third most life-threatening factor.

“Unintentional Injuries” is a vague category; the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the NCHS include car accidents, falls, accidental firearm deaths, and most (but not all) drug overdoses under the umbrella term. “Unintentional injuries involve physical harm or damage to the body that are either accidental or intentional.  When we talk about injury in the context of mortality statistics, we are typically concerned about the external cause of the injury, i.e., what even or circumstance caused the injury,” a spokesperson for the CDC told Observer. For example,” they continued, “the unintentional injury category includes motor vehicle accidents, unintentional falls, unintentional poisonings (including drug overdoses), among others. Other external cause of injury categories include suicides and homicides.”

US Life Expectancy Drops for Second Year in a Row, Research Points to Opioids