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Drop in U.S. life expectancy linked to opioid epidemic, CDC reports

Ben Schmitt
| Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, 9:00 a.m.
In this Feb. 2, 2017, file photo, used needles litter the ground at an open air drug market along train tracks in Philadelphia.
In this Feb. 2, 2017, file photo, used needles litter the ground at an open air drug market along train tracks in Philadelphia.

Life expectancy in the United States decreased for the second straight year, and the opioid epidemic appears to be a major culprit that cannot be ignored, according to federal data published Thursday.

“I think we should be really alarmed,” Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, said in a statement. “The drug overdose problem is a public health problem, and it needs to be addressed. We need to get a handle on it.”

On average, Americans can now expect to live 78.6 years, a statistically significant drop of 0.1 year, according to a report on 2016 data published Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics. Women can now expect to live a full five years longer than men: 81.1 years vs. 76.1 years.

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, the report said.

However, unintentional injuries, the fourth leading cause in 2015, became the third leading cause in 2016. Unintentional injuries include accidental drug overdoses, which caused 63,600 deaths last year.

Another CDC report released Thursday showed the death rate from drug overdoses tripled from 6.1 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 19.8 in 2016.

Pennsylvania was among states with the highest rates of overdose deaths in 2016. Its rate was 37.9 per 100,000 people. West Virginia had an overdose death rate of 52 per 100,000, and Ohio had 39.1 per 100,000.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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