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Life expectancy in the US, partly due to drugs and suicide

The average life expectancy in the United States has decreased in 2017 for the third year in a row, as the death rate from suicide and drug overdose continues to demand more American lives.

The average American can expect to live up to 78.6 years in 2017, compared with 78.7 in 2016, according to data released on Thursday by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). This decline may be modest, but for the third year in a row, there is a decrease in life expectancy at birth — a remarkable phenomenon, since the previous multi-year decline recorded by the NCHS was in the early 1960s.

According to new data, the current trend is stimulated by a steady increase in suicide and drug mortality. Insulators for death from suicide and accidental injuries (including drug overdose), and also due to conditions including Alzheimer's disease, stroke, flu and pneumonia, were ahead of the decline in fatal heart diseases and cancer, the two leading causes of death. Overall, mortality in the United States increased by 0.4% from 2016 to 2017, reaching 728.8 deaths per 100,000 people to 731.9.

Only drug overdose in 2017 amounted to 70,237 lives, which is the highest in one year. While this number corresponds to a 9.6% increase in mortality, it is much less than the 21% jump recorded between 2015 and 2016 — perhaps a sign that the country's drug abuse epidemic may begin to stabilize. Preliminary data released last month also indicate that drug overdose mortality has decreased over the past year.

However, drugs, namely opioids, such as heroin, are still a significant cause of death. And synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, are a growing problem: the rate of overdose deaths associated with these drugs has increased by 45% from 2016 to 2017.

According to the new report, the death rate from suicide increased by 3.7% between 2016 and 2017. While still relatively rare, suicide last year was 14 deaths per 100,000 people in the United States. In 1999, on the contrary, this number was about 10.5 per 100,000 people.

Women are especially pronounced among women, although the majority of people who died from suicide are men. The rate of female suicide between 1999 and 2017 increased by 53% compared with 26% for men. Past CDC data showed a particularly alarming increase among adolescent girls, for whom suicide rates rose by about 70% between 2010 and 2016.

New data is sobering, but the continuing decline in heart disease and cancer deaths gives a silver lining. Although last year’s decline in cardiovascular mortality was rather insignificant, cancer mortality decreased by 2.1% – a trend that probably reflects improved screening and detection, reduced smoking, increased vaccination against HPV cancer, and other advances in public health.

Write to Jamie Ducharm at

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