Life expectancy

Grim News: U.S. Life Expectancy Falls for a Second Straight Year

Largely due to increases in opioid overdose deaths

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DecliningAlexeiPoselenovDreamstime
Alexei Poselenov/Dreamstime

Life expectany is expected to rise in rich, developed countries such as the United States. So it's concerning when the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that "life expectancy for the U.S. population in 2016 was 78.6 years, a decrease of 0.1 year from 2015."

Worse still, that's the second straight year that life expectancy has come down. Back in 2014, the average American lived to be 78.9.

The last time average U.S. life expectancy dropped for even one year was way back in 1993, just prior to the development and widespread deployment of effective treatments for AIDS. The last time U.S. life expectancy fell for two years in a row was in the 1960s, due to fierce influenza outbreaks.

The CDC says one of the main causes of this decline is an increase of drug overdoses from 53,000 in 2016 to 64,000 in 2016. Opioids such as fentanyl and heroin accounted for most of the increase in overdose deaths.

Most disturbingly, the CDC data show that last year death rates increased for every age group from 15 to 64. Death rates declined for folks ages 65 and 84, while increasing for those 85 and older. In the latter case, as the heart disease and cancer survival rates improve, more Americans are living long enough to die of dementia.

So what to do? NPR reports that the demographer and sociologist Arun Hendi

says the nation "urgently" needs to cut off the supply of drugs flooding the market, "particularly heroin and fentanyl." The U.S. also needs to increase the availability of treatment for addicted Americans and improve access to high-quality health care, he says.

Given the manifest failure of the decades-long Drug War, declaring that the authorities should cut off the supply of drugs is quixotic at best. It bears noting that a fascinating 2017 National Bureau of Economic Research study, "How the Reformulation of OxyContin Ignited the Heroin Epidemic," reports: "Between 1999 and 2009, opioid death rates were rising rapidly but heroin death rates were much lower and increasing slowly. In 2010, this changed; over the next four years, heroin death rates increased by a factor of four while [prescription] opioid death rates remained fairly flat." In fact, the researchers "date the changes precisely to the month following the reformulation of OxyContin." Overall overdose deaths rose dramatically from that point on.

In other words, much of today's "opioid crisis" and the ensuing overdoses are an unintended consequence of a well-meaning attempt to prevent the abuse of safer prescription opioids.

Getting out of this situation will not be easy. Instead of trying to cut off the supply of street drugs, one harm reduction strategy would be to make prescription opioids more, not less, available to folks who are already dependent. Overdose deaths would likely fall when users know what dosages they are getting, unlike when they use heroin and fentanyl purchased on the street.

For more background on how to handle the "opioid crisis," read the insightful reporting of my Reason colleague Mike Riggs here and here.

NEXT: The TSA Is Still Really Bad at Evaluating Risk

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  1. They should have gotten Jeff Bezos’s ultra high tech German stem cell treatments, then they would lived forever.

  2. Shouldn’t this be celebrated as an increase in freedom?

    The freedom to be dead from “oids” if you want to do them.

    1. You’re not wrong?

  3. In other words, much of today’s “opioid crisis” and the ensuing overdoses are an unintended consequence of a well-meaning attempt to prevent the abuse of safer prescription opioids.

    What is the death toll of well-meaning, unintended consequences in medicine? If you count loss of progress due to government creating massive inefficiencies over the course of decades, the USG, and FDA in particular, are probably far worse than Stalin.

  4. It’s only going to get worse, I’m afraid. With the GOP Tax Scam taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich, the future will be even bleaker for all but the top 1%.

    1. You could redistribute yourself out of here.

    2. Where’s your sarcasm intended disclaimer?

  5. Is there any indication that we aren’t seeing some manner of mortality displacement or harvesting effect? I’m not an epidemiologist, but I don’t expect that if you take an opioid addicts drugs away at 40 he/she, on average, magically lives a happy full life on out into their 80s.

    We should do life expectancy as a percentage of actual expectation. How old do you think a 30-yr.-old heroine addict will live to be. We should probably include and even weight towards the addict’s expectation. Then all those overdoses/suicides come closer to 100% and anybody who fails ends up above 100. Your expectation that I should live to be 90 or 100 is your mistake, not mine.

  6. In 2010, this changed; over the next four years, heroin death rates increased by a factor of four while [prescription] opioid death rates remained fairly flat.” In fact, the researchers “date the changes precisely to the month following the reformulation of OxyContin.” Overall overdose deaths rose dramatically from that point on.

    Barack Hussein Obama’s hillbillycide.

    1. Whoa. Thanks for naming my thrashgrass band’s next album.

  7. For more background on how to handle the “opioid crisis,” read the insightful reporting of my Reason colleague Mike Riggs

    No

    Progressive prohibition policies are what got us into this mess, they’re not going to get us out of it.

  8. more Americans are living long enough to die of dementia

    Well that’s… something.

    1. First Americans were living long enough to die from cancer. Now people are outliving cancer and getting all the way to dementia. I’d call that a win.

  9. Failing to see a problem here. First, including unnatural deaths in life expectancy models does not tell us anything. How about counting when people die from natural causes? That would tell me, “Hey, if I live a healthy life, eat right and exercise, I can expect to live to about 78.9 years old.” If you include heroin overdoses (and wars, murder-by-police, etc, etc), that tells me nothing of how long I can expect live if I live healthily.

    As a libertarian, freedom of the people to make their own decisions (and realize the consequences of those decisions) is paramount. This goes for killing yourself by overdose.

    And lastly, in an article posted on your site just today, includes social security as one of largest financial burdens we currently face. The longer people live past their usefulness to society, the more of a drain they become on social security. When SSA was created, life expectancy was around 67. So you retire at 65, live 2 years off SS, then die. Now, SSA are trying to pay almost 14 years of retirement. Basic math tells you this is not sustainable. I understand minor changes have been made, such as I believe I cannot retire until 67 1/2, but I believe this is of little consequence. I understand everyone wants to live forever. News flash: You wont.

  10. life expectancy is only down for those who abuse themselves through drugs alcohol etc or encounter cops so no need to panic

  11. Or, how about, it is not the government’s job to do any goddamned thing to manage life expectancy?

  12. So what we’re saying is that the life expectancy metric is basically valueless mental masturbation and creative statistics?

  13. It’s because we’re living in Trump’s AmeriKKKa. Wake up, sheeple!

  14. No mention of the correlation to medicaid expansion due to barrycare? Gosh, I’m shocked. Maybe if the researchers voted on it it would be worthy of mention.

  15. Not only what they did with Oxycontin, but making hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco) Schedule II so docs can’t call it in.

    The prohibitionists will say deaths due to opioid abuse and include vicodin as if it is a major contributor. It is not.as the article says, it is mostly heroin, fentanyl or other very strong opioids, usually acquired off the black market, or if gotten from a doc, mixed with benzos, alcohol, Ambien etc.

    Seriously, I don’t know of anyone who died because they took 10 mg of vicodin twice a day for a prolonged period of time.

  16. So, if you’re not a junkie, your life expectancy didn’t drop at all, got it.

    (And yes, legalizing smack would probably fix it far better than quadrupling down on prohibition, and I remain all for that.

    Hell, people in chronic pain would probably live longer.

    But who thinks that’s gonna matter, when we got drug warring to do?)

  17. The funny thing is that socialized medicine just decreased the US life expectancy, and yet they’re now calling for more healthcare spending to fix it.

    Always remember, and never let any socialist you get into an argument with forget:

    The Drug War IS Socialized Medicine.

  18. It can’t be due to opioid overdose deaths–Reason said that there WAS no opioid problem. That the so-called ‘opioid epidemic’ was hysteria.

  19. We see a lot of addicted people in the emergency department; as for the vast majority of them, if somehow or other the drugs were magically taken away from them, they would, as a general rule, not live happy, productive, or long lives. It’s more like a prolonged suicide that eats up a lot of time and resources. RX drugs may be preferred, but there’s always illicit street drugs and of course alcohol to substitute.

  20. ObamaCare kills!

    I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that back-to-back decreases in life expectancy coincide with the full implementation of ObamaCare, but this should put an end to the nonsense that ObamaCare generally improves health outcomes any better than it achieves affordable care.

  21. For more background on how to handle the “opioid crisis,” read the insightful reporting of my Reason colleague Mike Riggs here and here.

    Riggs’ reporting is more about stopping the deaths, not stopping the addiction crisis. Sure, it’s humane– kind of, but it doesn’t fix the problem.

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