The twin scourges of opioid addiction and worsening wealth inequality are literally draining the lifeblood from the American public. Case in point: The Centers for Disease Control confirmed earlier today that the average life expectancy at birth declined in 2016 for the second consecutive year – the first multiyear decline since 1963, when a flu epidemic led to a rash of deaths as hundreds of thousands of elderly Americans succumbed to the virus.
The increase has been fueled by a 21% rise in drug overdose deaths, according to the Washington Post.
Let that sink in for a second: In 1963, penicillin was a relatively recent innovation. We live in an age of unprecedented medicinal efficacy. Despite this, Americans are sicker than ever before.
And as if that weren’t enough, they’re also spending more on health-care than ever before. Data from the NHE shows the US spent a staggering $3.3 trillion on healthcare in 2016, equivalent to roughly 18% of GDP.
“I think we should take it very seriously,” said Bob Anderson, chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, told the Washington Post. “If you look at the other developed countries in the world, they’re not seeing this kind of thing. Life expectancy is going up."
As we’ve highlighted time and time again, more than 42,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses alone in 2016 – a 28% increase over 2015. When deaths from drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine and benzodiazepines are included, the overall increase was 21%.
A multiyear decline in life expectancy is more commonly associated with AIDS epidemics in southern and eastern Africa or wars in Syria and Afghanistan, said Majid Ezzati, a professor of public health at Imperial College London who has studied life expectancy.
“The story does come down to young people,” he said. “It’s the overdose story, to a large extent."
Last year – when the CDC data showed the first annualized drop in life expectancy since the early 1990s – public health observers declared that this could be the beginning of a seriously troubling trend that could have far reaching repercussions for the US economy. Experts, including Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton, examined the impact of so-called “diseases of despair” – drug overdoses, suicides and alcoholism – as well as small increases in deaths from heart disease, strokes and diabetes as the Baby Boom generation ages into retirement.
Furthermore, the 2016 data shows that just three major causes of death are responsible: unintentional injuries, Alzheimer’s disease and suicides, with the bulk of the difference attributable to the 63,632 people who died of overdoses. That total was an increase of more than 11,000 over the 52,404 who died of the same cause in 2015. This trend was largely driven by deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, which more than doubled from the previous year. Heroin and prescription opioid overdose deaths also rose, but more modestly.
At the same time, a long decline in deaths from heart disease continued a six-year trend of leveling out, Anderson said. The small decrease last year in the rate of the nation’s leading cause of death no longer canceled the drug epidemic’s impact on life expectancy, Anderson said.
“The key factor is the increase in drug overdose deaths,” he said.
Overall, life expectancy dropped by a tenth of a year, from 78.7 to 78.6. It fell two-tenths of a year for men, who have much higher overdose death rates, from 76.3 to 76.1 years. Women’s life expectancy held steady at 81.1 years.
While drug mortality has been increasing among all age groups since 1999, it’s highest among those ages 25 to 54. Their fatal overdose rate for all drugs was roughly 35 cases per 100,000 individuals in 2016, compared with 12 deaths per 100,000 for people under 24 and six deaths per 100,000 among seniors 65 and older.
Examining this data through the lens of gender reveals another startling detail: The bulk of this increase is driven by a spike in overdose deaths among men.
As WaPo points out, men of all ages (26 deaths per 100,000) are twice as likely to die of a drug overdose as women (13 per 100,000). At the state level, West Virginia stands alone as the epicenter of overdose mortality, with 52 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2016. The next two states, New Hampshire and Ohio, each saw 39 deaths per 100,000 last year.
“This is no longer an opioid crisis,” said Patrick Kennedy, a former Rhode Island congressman who was a member of President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. “This is a moral crisis . . . we know how to answer this problem, but we can’t get around our own prejudices."
During the campaign, President Trump promised to do everything in his power to combat the opioid epidemic. But so far, his actions have fallen far short of the recommendations from a committee that he created in March to study options to suppress the crisis. Most notably, Trump ignored a recommendation from the committee to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency – a designation that would’ve allowed the hardest-hit states to access federal disaster-relief funds. Instead Trump declared it a national health crisis, leaving states empty-handed.
Another factor that shows just how damaging opioids have been to the American public: last year, rates of heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, strokes, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, and kidney disease fell, as did the nation’s overall death rate. But this wasn’t enough to offset the impact of opioids.
Increasing incidences of Alzheimer’s disease have also contributed to this trend.
“As people avoid [cancer and heart disease], they’re going to survive long enough to die of Alzheimer’s,” he said.
And while only limited provisional data is available for 2017, things don’t look any better.
“My guess is that when all of the data are in that the  trend line will be at least as steep as for 2016, if not steeper,” Anderson said.
And in case you wondered what all this has to do with me… apart from it's "your" life expectancy, well this is what happened to the only thing that really matters to everyone… The Dow… the last time that US life expectancy dropped for two straight years…