For the second year in a row, Americans’ life expectancy has declined, a change that the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) linked to the opiod crisis that has swept the nation.
Longevity dropped to an average of 78.6 years, driven by higher death rates among young and middle-aged Americans while older people were found to be living longer. The link to opiod abuse was apparent in one telling statistic: fatal drug overdoses jumped by 21 percent, and the rate of deaths from synthetic opioids like fentanyl doubled from 2015 to 2016, the NCHS said.
Outside of times of war or epidemics, declines in life expectancy are unusual in modern, wealthy nations and the reversal in the U.S. has been years in the making. Research has shown that Americans live shorter lives than citizens of other rich nations like Japan, Germany or Canada, a gap in lifespans that has been increasing.
“We’ve been on a different trajectory from other high-income nations over two decades,” Laudan Aron, a demographer at the Urban Institute, told Bloomberg.
Bloomberg found that the opioid crisis is part of the story in the most recent years. Accidental injuries, a category that includes drug overdoses, eclipsed respiratory disease to become the third-leading cause of death in 2016, accounting for almost 6 percent of all deaths. Only cancer and heart disease now kill more Americans.