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For the first time since 1993, life expectancy in the United States has declined instead of increased because of the opioid and drug overdose epidemic taking the lives of 100 younger and middle age persons every day. This fact has dropped overall life expectancy to 78.8, a drop of .1%. One estimate says the drug overdose deaths are responsible for a loss of 2 1/2 months in life expectancy. Of course, this is a statistic and not applicable to every person but it indicates that the overall success in health care in this country which has been extending the lifespan has been stopped by the drug deaths. This is primarily a problem of White Americans because similar decreases in life expectancy for Hispanics and African Americans did not occur. There is a difference of 5-10 years in the lifespan of people in urban and coastal communities versus those in rural areas in Appalachia and rural southern states.
I have continually touted the great public health successes in battling cancer and heart disease. The results are stunning in those areas. For men 65-74, the death rate dropped by an astounding 41.6% from 1990 – 2007. For men 75-84, it decreased by 29.5%. The number of people reaching 100 has more than doubled since 1980.
There is more good news for men who now make up 44% of all older Americans. At one time this number was in the 30% -35% range. With dramatic improvements in care for cancer and heart disease and fewer dying from industrial related illnesses, many men are in the unaccustomed position of becoming either caregivers for their wives or outliving them.
So, most of the news on lifespan is good for older Americans as death rates from most diseases decline. The major exception of course is Alzheimers disease which has increased as a direct result of more people living longer.
Trends among younger persons offer storm clouds for life expectancy for certain segments of the population. Obviously the same reasons causing the drug overdose epidemic are causing serious health problems and earlier deaths for many. Obesity among some younger groups also is major threat a longer lifespan though some progress is being made as public health initiatives are focusing on avoiding sugar sweetened beverages and other sources of added sugar and beverage and food makers are reducing sugar content.