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Life expectancy declines again as drug and suicide deaths escalate

Deaths from cancer continued their long, steady, downward trend.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's annual mortality report released today shows that life expectancy in the U.S. declined again in 2017.

Overall, Americans could expect to live 78.6 years at birth in 2017, down a tenth of a year from the 2016 estimate, according to the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. Men could anticipate a life span of 76.1 years, down a tenth of a year from 2016. Life expectancy for women in 2017 was 81.1 years, unchanged from the previous year.

These annual statistics are considered a reliable barometer of a society's health. In most developed nations, life expectancy has marched steadily upward for decades.

Robert Redfield, MD, CDC director, called the trend tragic and troubling. "Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation's overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable," he wrote in a statement.

The 10 leading causes of death in 2017 remained the same as in 2016, but only deaths from cancer declined

There is good news involving cancer. Of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S., only cancer declined. In 2017, the 10 leading causes of death were: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease, and suicide - the same as in 2016 – and accounted for 74.0% of all deaths in the United States in 2017. From 2016 to 2017, age-adjusted death rates increased for 7 of 10 leading causes of death and decreased for just one, cancer.

The rate increased 4.2% for unintentional injuries, 0.7% for chronic lower respiratory diseases, 0.8% for stroke, 2.3% for Alzheimer disease, 2.4% for diabetes, 5.9% for influenza and pneumonia, and 3.7% for suicide. The rate decreased 2.1% for cancer. Rates for heart disease and kidney disease did not change significantly.

"This continues a trend that began in the early 1990s," said Rebecca Siegel, MPH, scientific director, Surveillance Research. "Cancer was the only of the 10 leading causes of death for which there was a statistically significant decline in 2017 (2.1%). The continued decline in cancer mortality is driven by the drop in smoking, as well as improvements in treatment and early detection for some cancers," she explained.

Drug overdoses set another annual record in 2017, cresting at 70,237 — up from 63,632 the year before, the government said in a companion report. The opioid epidemic continued to take a relentless toll, with 47,600 deaths in 2017 from drugs sold on the street such as fentanyl and heroin, as well as prescription narcotics. That was also a record number, driven largely by an increase in fentanyl deaths.

Here are findings documented in the overdose report:

  • The age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths in 2017 (21.7 per 100,000) was 9.6% higher than the rate in 2016 (19.8). This percent increase was lower than that seen between 2015 and 2016 when the rate increased by 21% (from 16.3 to 19.8).
  • Adults aged 25-34, 35-44, and 45–54 had the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in 2017.
  • The age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (drugs such as fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, and tramadol) increased by 45% between 2016 and 2017, from 6.2 to 9.0 deaths per 100,000. This percent increase was lower than that seen between 2015 and 2016 when the rate doubled in a single year (from 3.1 to 6.2).
  • The age-adjusted death rate from heroin overdose did not change between 2016 and 2017 – 4.9 deaths per 100,000. But the 2017 rate was seven times higher than the rate in 1999.
  • West Virginia (57.8 per 100,000), Ohio (46.3), Pennsylvania (44.3), and the District of Columbia (44.0) had the highest observed age-adjusted drug overdose death rates in 2017.

A third report reveals that the suicide rate in the U.S. has increased from 10.4 suicides per 100,000 in 1999 to 14.0 in 2017. Suicide rates have increased since 1999 for both males and females ages 10-74. Rates in the most rural U.S. counties are nearly two times higher than rates in the most urban counties.

The three reports are available on the NCHS web site at

TOP PHOTO: This illustrates age-adjusted drug overdose death rates by state for 2017.

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