Drugs, Alcohol and Suicide Are Killing So Many Young Americans That the Country’s Average Lifespan Is Falling
By JAMIE DUCHARME. Time. Updated: September 21, 2018 11:13 AM ET | Originally published: September 20, 2018
Young Americans are dying in rising numbers because of drugs, alcohol and suicide, according to new federal data.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) issued its annual comprehensive health and mortality report, which analyzes trends in death rates by cause and demographic. Drugs, alcohol and suicide, the report says, have contributed to the first drops in U.S. life expectancy since 1993. While U.S. life expectancy rose from 77.8 to 78.6 years between 2006 and 2016, the trend reversed during the end of the decade, leading to a 0.3-year decline between 2014 and 2016 — in large part because of rising rates of drug overdoses, suicide and liver disease, as well as Alzheimer’s
Death rates for Americans ages 15 to 44 rose by around 5% each year between 2013 and 2016, and drugs, alcohol and suicide are chiefly to blame, the CDC report says.
Drug overdoses alone killed more than 63,600 people in 2016, the report says. Among men ages 24 to 35, overdose rates rose by more than 25% each year between 2014 and 2016; nearly 50 out of every 100,000 people in this population died of overdose-related causes by 2016. Women ages 45 to 54 had the most overdoses overall, but those ages 15 to 24 saw the highest rate of increase: about a 19% jump per year between 2014 and 2016.
Alcohol is also a major public health concern. Liver disease replaced HIV as the sixth-leading killer of adults ages 25 to 44 in 2016. Among men and women ages 25 to 34, deaths from liver disease and cirrhosis increased by about 11% and 8% per year, respectively, between 2006 and 2016. Older adults, however, still die of liver disease at much higher rates than young adults.
Suicide, meanwhile, is on the rise in nearly every demographic — but a few trends emerged. Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 24, increasing by 7% in this group each year between 2014 and 2016. It’s also the third-leading cause of death among people ages 25 to 44, killing almost 17 of every 100,000 people in this population in 2016. Suicide rates even rose among children ages 1 to 14, increasing around 9% each year during the study period — though fewer than one of every 100,000 people in this group died by suicide in 2016.
And while men still die by suicide much more frequently than women, increasing rates among young women are starting to narrow that gap. Suicide rates among young and teenage girls rose by 70% between 2010 and 2016, according to previous CDC data.
Nearly three-quarters of the Americans who died in 2016 were older than 65. Rates of many common killers decreased in this population during the preceding decade; deaths from heart disease and cancer, the top two killers of adults older than 65, both declined, as did those from strokes.The exception, however, was Alzheimers, the death rate of which rose by 21%. According to separate CDC data released Thursday, that trend is likely to continue. The number of people affected by Alzheimer’s and related dementias is projected to double by 2060, rising from 5 million people (1.6% of the U.S. population) in 2014 to an estimated 13.9 million people (3.3% of the population) in 2060, according to the CDC.
Correction: September 21
An earlier version of this story misstated the way some causes of death were measured in the CDC report. They are measured per 100,000 people in a population, not per 100,000 deaths.
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