A disturbing increase in drug-overdose deaths has caused U.S. life expectancy to plummet for the second year in a row, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A devastating influenza outbreak, in 1962 and 1963, was the last time the United States saw a two-year decline in life expectancy, according to the CDC. There was another one-year drop, which took place at the peak of the AIDS epidemic in 1993, The Washington Post noted.
In 2016, average life expectancy fell from 78.7 years to 78.6. Life expectancy for men went from 76.3 to 76.1; but for women, it remained steady at 81.1 years.
The CDC released the data on Thursday, showing that there were approximately 63,600 drug overdose deaths in 2016. This is an increase of more than 11,000 since 2015.
The rate of drug-overdose death has tripled since 1999, the CDC said, noting that men die from a drug overdose at about twice the rate of women, which explains the disparity in the change in life expectancy. Drug-overdose deaths had risen across all age groups.
States with the highest overdose death rate per 100,000 population:
- West Virginia – 52
- Ohio – 39.1
- New Hampshire – 39.0
- The District of Columbia – 38.8
- Pennsylvania – 37.9
Of the overdose deaths, 66 percent were attributable to opioids, a number which makes narcotic drugs deadlier than breast cancer, CNN reports.
Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, have greatly contributed to the carnage, increasing the rate of death by 88 percent per year between 2013 and 2016.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported seizing 1,485 pounds of fentanyl in 2017, up from two pounds seized in 2014, according to a report in The Washington Free Beacon.
Dr. Robert Mitchell, the D.C. chief medical examiner, told a recent meeting of the United States Sentencing Commission that fentanyl caused the deaths of many long-term heroin users in his jurisdiction.
Deaths from heroin and other natural/semi-synthetic opioids also increased, although not as much.
Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton have established a connection between opioid deaths and social dysfunction, saying that people are succumbing to “deaths of despair”— deaths from suicide, alcohol abuse, and drug overdose.
In efforts to address the opioid crisis, on Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that a new senior level position has been created within the Department of Justice. The Director of Opioid Enforcement and Prevention Efforts will be responsible for formulating, implementing, and coordinating DOJ policy on opioids.
“With one American dying of a drug overdose every nine minutes, we need all hands on deck,” Sessions said. “Today we take the next step: creating a senior level official position at the department to focus entirely on this issue. This department will continue to follow the president’s lead, and I am confident that we can and will turn the tide of the drug crisis.”
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