American mortality rates have continued to rise alongside worrying upticks in overdose and suicide rates, according to three new government studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Life expectancy dropped to 78.6 years in 2017, down from 78.7 in 2016, contributing to the longest-running decline in U.S. history since World War I, when a flu pandemic killed almost 700,000 people nationwide between 1915 and 1918.
The primary group that saw jumps in their death rates were white Americans ― a 0.6 percent jump for white males and 0.9 percent for white females, according to the CDC.
“Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” CDC director Robert Redfield said.
The 10 leading causes of death remained the same, with heart disease and cancer at the top of the list. Yet a second CDC report revealed that the rate of drug overdoses jumped 9.6 percent between 2016 and 2017, totaling 70,237 deaths last year. The rate of death from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl jumped by 71 percent between 2013 and 2017 and by 45 percent between 2016 and 2017 alone.
The age groups particularly affected in 2017 spanned the 25-34 range, as well as 35-44 and 45-54. The highest overdose rates were also concentrated in only a handful of states, including West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.
A third report found that suicide rates also continue to climb, particularly among rural Americans. Between 1999 and 2017, the suicide rate increased by 33 percent. Men saw a 26 percent jump while women experienced a 53 percent increase. More remote areas have seen rates almost twice as high as in urban areas.
“I think this is a very dismal picture of health in the United States,” Joshua M. Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The Washington Post. “Life expectancy is improving in many places in the world. It shouldn’t be declining in the United States.”