Opioid Epidemic Lowers U.S. Life Expectancy for 2nd Straight Year, Feds Say

According to the Maryland state government, many heroin users in the state are people who became addicted to prescription narcotics following an injury or surgery, then begin to use cheaper illicit heroin when they can no longer obtain prescriptions for legal opioids. (Courtesy of the Maryland state government)

Drug-related deaths in the U.S. — particularly opioid overdoses — skyrocketed last year, decreasing the overall life expectancy among Americans for the second straight year, federal statistics show.

According to figures released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 63,000 drug deaths in 2016, compared to 52,000 the previous year.

But for the first time, the powerful painkiller fentanyl and similar opioids were larger contributors to drug-related deaths than any other legal or illegal drug, surpassing prescription pain pills and heroin, the CDC said.

The nation’s life expectancy, or the average time someone is expected to live, dropped from 78.7 years in 2015 to 78.6 years last year. The figures are based on the year of birth, current death trends and other factors.

It was the second straight year the U.S. average lifespan decreased, which federal officials attribute to the rise in opioid overdoses.

“This is urgent and deadly,” CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald said in a statement, adding that the widespread use of opioids — which has worsened among Black communities — has had a clear and huge impact on society as a whole.


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