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The decline in life expectancy in the United States is partly due to drugs and suicide

Life expectancy in the US declined in succession for the third consecutive year in 2017, as the number of deaths after suicide and drug overdose continues to demand more American lives.

According to data released Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (NCHS), the average age of Americans could survive to 78.6 years in 2017, compared to 78.7 years in 2016. This fall may be small, but for the third consecutive year it shows that life expectancy at birth has declined – a significant phenomenon, as the NCHS's previous multi-annual decline began in the early 1960s.

According to the latest data, the current trend is due to an unceasing increase in deaths due to suicide and drug use. Attacks on suicide and accidental deaths (including drug overdoses), as well as conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, stroke, flu and pneumonia, have exceeded the risk of fatal heart disease and cancer, which are the two leading causes of death in the country. Total mortality in the United States increased by 0.4% between 2016 and 2017, from 728.8 deaths per 100,000 to 731.9.

In 2017 alone, the number of drug overdoses reached 70 237 lives, the most recorded for one year. Although this figure corresponds to an increase of 9.6% in the mortality rate, it is much lower than the 21% leap recorded between 2015 and 2016 – perhaps a sign that the country's dependence on the drug epidemic may start to stabilize. Preliminary data released last month also suggested that the number of overdoses of drug overdoses has fallen over the past year.

However, drugs, namely opioids, such as heroin, are still a significant cause of death. And synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, are becoming more and more difficult: from 2016 to 2017, the number of deaths caused by overdose with these medications increased.

By contrast, deaths from suicide in the period from 2016 to 2017 rose by 3.7%, according to a new report. While still relatively rare, US suicides last year were 14 deaths per 100,000 people. In 1999, this figure was about 10.5 per 100 000 people.

The increase in the number of women has been particularly pronounced for women, although most people die because of suicide are men. The number of female suicides increased by 53% between 1999 and 2017, compared with 26% for men. Previous CDC data indicate a particularly alarming increase in girls adolescents with suicide rates of about 70% between 2010 and 2016.

The new data is prudent, but a decrease in heart disease and cancer-related deaths provides silver plating. Although the reduction in cardiac deaths last year was quite small, cancer-related mortality fell by 2.1%, which probably reflected better screening and detection, a reduction in smoking counts, an increase in vaccination against HPV-related cancers and other public health improvements .

To write Jamie Ducharme at

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