US Life Expectancy Up for First Time in 4 Years, as ODs, Cancer Deaths Dip

Megan Brooks

January 30, 2020

In 2018, for the first time in 4 years, American life expectancy rose, and for the first time in more than 2 decades, fewer Americans died of drug overdoses than the year before, according a report released today by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"This news is a real victory, and it should be a source of encouragement for all Americans who have been committed to connecting people struggling with substance abuse to treatment and recovery," Alex Azar, secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement.

Owing to the decline in overall mortality, life expectancy at birth in 2018 increased 0.1 year since 2017. It is currently 78.7 years. For males, life expectancy rose from 76.1 years in 2017 to 76.2 in 2018 ― an increase of 0.1 year. For females, life expectancy increased 0.1 year, from 81.1 years in 2017 to 81.2 in 2018.

Life expectancy declined in 2 of the past 3 years prior to 2018, and the 2018 estimate is still lower than the peak of 78.9 years in 2014, the CDC says.

In 2018, the age-adjusted death rate for the entire US population fell by 1.1%, from 731.9 deaths per 100,000 population in 2017 to 723.6 in 2018.

The 10 leading causes of death in 2018 remained the same for the third year in a row: heart disease, cancer, accidents/unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory disease, cerebrovascular disease, Alzheimer's, diabetes, influenza/pneumonia, nephritis, and intentional self-harm/suicide.

Death rates increased in 2018 for only two of the 10 leading causes of death (suicide and influenza/pneumonia). Declines in deaths from cancer and accidents/unintentional injuries made up over half the increase in life expectancy in 2018, the CDC says.

Drug Overdose Deaths Down – A First in Nearly 30 Years

A decline in drug overdose deaths in 2018 ― the first time that has happened in 28 years ― contributed to the increased life expectancy, the CDC says.

Drug overdoses account for over a third of all accidental deaths in the United States. In a separate report released today, the CDC states that 67,367 drug overdose deaths occurred in 2018 ― a 4.1% drop from 2017, when there were 70,237 drug overdose deaths. Nearly 9 in 10 overdose deaths were accidental/unintentional.

The drug overdose death rate was lower in 2018 than in 2017 in 14 states and the District of Columbia. For the nation as a whole, the overdose death rate was 20.7 deaths per 100,000 in 2018, vs 21.7 in 2017.

However, the rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (drugs such as fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, and tramadol) rose by 10% in 2018, from 9.0 to 9.9 per 100,000.

From 2012 to 2018, the rate of drug overdose deaths involving cocaine more than tripled (from 1.4 to 4.5 per 100,000), and the rate for deaths involving psychostimulants with abuse potential (drugs such as methamphetamine) jumped nearly fivefold (from 0.8 to 3.9).

"The drop in overdose deaths shows that the president's new level of focus on the opioid crisis, and the administration's science- and community-based efforts to combat it, are beginning to make a significant difference," Azar said in the release.

"But our work is far from finished, and there are some disturbing trends, such as the rising rates of methamphetamine overdoses. Using these data and the best science we have, the Trump administration will continue its deep commitment to improving the physical and mental health and well-being of every American," he added.

Maternal Mortality

The CDC also released today the first estimated maternal mortality rate for the United States since 2007. The estimated rate reflects state-by-state revisions in the reporting of maternal deaths.

It is estimated that in 2018, the national maternal mortality rate was 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, which is not significantly different from the last recorded national rate (12.7 in 2007) after factoring in the changes in data collection and reporting, the CDC says.

NCHS, Data Briefs. Mortality in the United States, 2018, Full text; Changes in Life Expectancy at Birth, 2010–2018, Full text; Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 1999–2018, Full text

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