Life expectancy in the United States continued to decline in 2017 compared with 2014, which was associated with a historic deterioration, mainly due to the drug overdose crisis, as well as an increase in suicide rates, according to health statistics published on Thursday.
“This is the first time we have seen a downward trend with a large 1918 flu epidemic,” said Robert Anderson, head of mortality statistics at the National Center for Health Statistics, who reports data, AFP said. Anderson noted, however, that in 1918 the decline was much worse.
In 2017, life expectancy at birth was 76.1 years for men and 81.1 years for women. The median for the population was 78.6 years, compared with 78.9 in 2014.
In addition, they are three and a half years less than in Canada, on the other side of the border, and this also depends on overdoses.
“These statistics warn us and show that we are losing a lot of Americans very quickly due to possible causes,” said Robert Redfield, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The scourge of drug overdose began in the early 2000s, and its intensity has increased over the past four years.
In 2017, about 70,000 Americans died from a drug overdose, which is 10% more than in 2016.
As for deaths, Anderson compared this situation with the growing HIV epidemic, but with one difference: it quickly declined. The statistician expects overdoses to go the same way. “We are a developed country, life expectancy should increase, not decrease,” he said.
Of the 35 OECD countries, only Iceland has recently observed a decrease in life expectancy, according to data until 2016. In other places, it has grown or stalled.
Suicides also continued to grow in parallel in 2017 in the United States, reaching 47,000 deaths. Since 1999, the suicide rate has increased by 33%.
“We have a lot of work to reverse these trends,” said Democratic Congressman Bill Foster.
– Opioids –
There are two categories of overdose. One for non-opioid drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine, and the other for psychostimulants, for which about 27,000 people died.
But growth is largely due to the second category: opiates.
This includes heroin, morphine and the so-called semi-synthetic opiates, such as oxycodone, a prescription pain medication, but sold on the black market, with the help of complicit doctors and laboratories who claim to ignore the problem and which are usually the gateway to addiction.
Recently, most deaths occur in a new generation of drugs: synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, are ten times more effective than heroin, with which the smallest dose can be fatal. About 28,000 Americans died in 2017 from fentanyl or similar drugs.
“Fentanyl now dominates the opiate market,” said the Washington Post, Joshua Scharfstein, a former Maryland medical officer at Johns Hopkins University.
The mortality rate from synthetic opiates has doubled from 2015 to 2016. Last year it increased by 45%.
But the numbers of 2017 showed a detail that gives relative hope: the number of overdoses continues to grow, but more slowly.
Preliminary data for 2018 even suggest that the crisis reached its peak at the beginning of this year. “But it's hard to say,” because at the moment there is only data for several months, said cautious Robert Anderson.
In Staten Island, New York, Dr. Harshall Kirana, director of addiction services, avoids jumping to conclusions. “It is gratifying to see that the trajectory is curved, no doubt,” he told AFP. "But 70,000 dead, they are still difficult to digest."
This plague is not equally affected by the whole country. Center states, from Texas to South Dakota, are relatively safe.
The crisis is acute in New England, in the northeastern corner, where over one-fourth of the organ donations are responsible for overdose mortality, competing with traffic accidents.
He is also very strong in the two states of the old industrial belt (Ohio and Pennsylvania) and especially in the poorest West Virginia, which is on the front with a sad figure of 58 deaths per 100,000 people compared to the national average 22.