For the first time since the early 1960s, life expectancy in the United States has fallen for a second year in a row. "I'm not prone to dramatic statements, but I think we should be really alarmed," the chief of the morality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, Robert Anderson, told NPR.
Officials blame the rare U.S. life expectancy decline on opioid overdoses. The epidemic has reached such a state of crisis that STAT estimated earlier this year that the drugs could kill nearly 500,000 Americans in the next decade. In October, President Trump officially declared the crisis to be a national public health emergency and said the government would work on advertising campaigns and research into non-addictive pain management techniques to combat the soaring fatalities.
Americans' life expectancy dropped from 78.9 years to 78.7 years between 2014 and 2015, and from 78.7 years to 78.6 years between 2015 and 2016. "For any individual, that's not a whole lot," Anderson said. "But when you're talking about it in terms of a population, you're talking about a significant number of potential lives that aren't being lived." In 2016, an estimated 42,200 drug overdose deaths were attributed to opioids. In 2015, that number was 33,000.
The last time U.S. life expectancy dropped at all was in 1993, during the height of the AIDS epidemic. "Deaths from alcohol have been rising as well," Princeton University economist Anne Case added to NPR. "So we think of it all being signs that something is really wrong and whatever is it is that's really wrong is happening nationwide."