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With Overdose Deaths Down, Life Expectancy Sees Slight Upturn

January 30, 2020

A drop in drug overdose deaths from 2017 to 2018 is largely being credited for a slight increase in life expectancy in the U.S. in 2018, reversing a recent pattern of declines in life expectancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released data showing that the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths was 4.6% lower in 2018 than in the previous year.

According to data from the National Vital Statistics System, the number of drug overdose deaths nationally dropped from 70,237 in 2017 to 67,367 in 2018. The age-adjusted overdose death rate declined from 21.7 per 100,000 population in 2017 to 20.7 per 100,000 the following year.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia saw a drop in the age-adjusted rate of overdose deaths in 2018. Only five states (California, Delaware, Missouri, New Jersey and South Carolina) had an increase in the overdose death rate in 2018.

The encouraging trend regarding overdose deaths, in combination with fewer deaths from other causes such as cancer and heart disease, resulted in a small increase in life expectancy from 78.6 years in 2017 to 78.7 years in 2018.

Age-adjusted rates of overdose deaths for some drug categories have been on the increase, the CDC reported. The adjusted rate of deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (a category that includes fentanyl and its analogs) increased by 10% from 2017 to 2018. Also, in the period from 2012 to 2018, overdose deaths involving stimulants such as methamphetamine have increased substantially, with fentanyl believed to be responsible at least in part for this.

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