CDC: ‘We are losing too many Americans, too early’

New report says suicides and drug overdoses pushed down US life expectancy

Suicides and drug overdoses pushed up the number of U.S. deaths last year, the Centers for Disease and Prevention said Thursday.

According to the CDC, more than 2.8 million people died in the United States in 2017 — nearly 70,000 more than in 2016. That's the highest number in one year since the government began counting more than a century ago, the Associated Press reported.

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“These sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” CDC director Robert Redfield said in a statement.

For decades, the U.S. life expectancy was on the rise, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, but has declined the past couple of years. The overall life expectancy in the U.S. was 78.6 years, down .1 from the previous year. Men can expect to live 76.1 years, down from 76.3. Women held steady at 81.1 years.

During the 20th century, advances in medications and other treatments were responsible for dramatic increases in how long people lived. But deaths from drug overdoses, chronic liver disease, suicide, Alzheimer's and blood infections (septicemia) have all gone up, resulting in a shortened average life span.

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Heart disease and cancer still kill most Americans, but they weren't the reason people are dying younger. In fact, deaths from heart disease have been declining. Between 2006 and 2016, however, death rates from from drug overdoses increased 72 percent and for suicides, 23 percent.

The CDC didn't say what is behind the declining life expectancy, but William Dietz, a disease prevention expert at George Washington University, told the AP he sees a sense of hopelessness.

“I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless, and that that leads to drug use, it leads potentially to suicide,” he said.

» US sees drop in life expectancy, largely due to opioid crisis among young adults

The CDC statement also said:

  • A baby born last year in the U.S. is expected to live about 78 years and 7 months, on average. An American born in 2015 or 2016 was expected to live about a month longer, and one born in 2014 about two months longer than that.
  • The suicide rate was 14 deaths per 100,000 people. That's the highest since at least 1975.
  • The percentage of suicides because of drug overdose has been inching downward.
  • Deaths from flu and pneumonia rose by about 6 percent. The 2017-2018 flu season was one of the worst in more than a decade, and some of the deaths from early in that season appeared in the new death dates.
  • West Virginia was once again the state with the highest rate of drug overdose deaths. The CDC did not release state rates for suicides.
  • Death rates for heroin, methadone and prescription opioid painkillers were flat. But deaths from the powerful painkiller fentanyl and its close opioid cousins continued to soar in 2017.

So who lives longest? According to the report, Hispanics had the highest life expectancy at 81.8 years. Non-Hispanic whites were next, with 78.5 years, followed by non-Hispanic blacks, with 74.8 years.

Where you live can also affect how long you can expect to live.

Areas in the bottom 25 percent of the report had four things in common: Most of the people were less educated, low income and predominantly black, and they were in the South.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which worked with the CDC on the report, created a calculator to determine the life expectancy of an area.

» Where you live in Atlanta affects life expectancy

The average life span for Georgians, according to the calculator, was 77.40 years. If you live in Gwinnett County, though, you get an extra 3.18 years. Cobb County residents are looking at 80.08 years on Earth, but those in DeKalb County get only 79.14.

The area with the lowest life expectancy in the U.S. was Stilwell, Oklahoma, where people averaged 56.3 years. Where do people live longest? Chatham, North Carolina. Residents of this higher-income area could expect to be around until they reach 97.5 years old.