As of 2018, the life expectancy at birth is now 76.2 years for men, and 81.2 years for women, a 0.1 increase for both sexes.
The increase is small, only one month, but it marks at least a temporary high to a downward trend.
In 2018, the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths in the United States was 4.6% lower than the rate in 2017.
"Let's just hope it continues", said Robert Anderson, who oversees the report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cancer actually contributed more to that increase in life expectancy. But from 2014 to 2017, it fell slightly or remained stable. At the same time, there was an uptick in overdose deaths from fentanyl, methamphetamine and cocaine.
Mortality rates increased in 2018 only for two of the 10 leading causes of death (suicide and influenza / pneumonia). Suicide rates rose by 1.4% between 2017 and 2018, a rate that has been steadily increasing since 2000.
"The recent consecutive decline in life expectancy has been the anomaly and much of that decline seems to have been driven by midlife mortality, in particular drug-related mortality", said Dana A. Glei, a senior research investigator in population health at Georgetown University.
Those efforts include improving access to treatment for opioid use disorder and access to overdose rescue, she notes. The data from the CDC shows that deaths due to drug overdose dropped for the first time in almost 30 years. Prescription painkillers are no longer the leading cause of overdose deaths. And preliminary data for the first half of 2019 suggest that the overall decline in overdose deaths is already slowing.
It's still a crisis, said Katherine Keyes, a Columbia University researcher. "But the fact that we have seen the first year where there is no additional increase is encouraging". Those include states where overdose deaths have been most common, like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia showed a decrease, whereas five states - California, Delaware, Missouri, New Jersey and SC - saw an increase, and the other states didn't change significantly. "It's still really important to put all of our public health efforts into reducing the burden of overdose".
"We nearly saturated our community with Narcan", he said.
Nationally, for all causes of death, more than 2.8 million Americans died in 2018.
The decline represents the first year-over-year decline since 1989-1990, according to the report. Deaths associated with unintentional injuries and chronic lower respiratory diseases also declined, accounting for 25.4% and 9.3% of positive contributions, respectively. The decrease could have been even greater but was offset by a 63.4% improvement in cancer survival and smaller improvements for heart disease and influenza/pneumonia.
Americans who were 65 in 2018 are expected to live another 19 years and six months, on average. For black women, the maternal mortality rate is 37.1 per every 100,000 live births, three times the rate for non-Hispanic white and Hispanic women.
- Gun-related deaths declined very slightly, to about 39,700, thanks to a drop in homicides involving firearms.
The suicide death rate reached its highest level since 1941: around 14 per 100,000. It's been rising most years since then.
"Surely, it is good news that USA life expectancy has resumed its advance", Samuel H. Preston, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, told UPI.
Drug overdose deaths, Anderson explained, have a profound impact on average life expectancy because many occur at younger ages than other leading causes of death - like cancer, heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer's disease.