Opioid deaths fuel dip in US life expectancy for second straight year: 5 things to know

American life expectancy dipped for a second consecutive year in 2016. This decline was once again largely fueled by soaring rates of opioid overdose deaths, according to two reports from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics released Thursday.

Here are five things to know.

1. According to the NCHS report on overall mortality, life expectancy at birth for Americans in 2016 was 78.6 years, marking a decrease of 0.1 year from 78.7 in 2015. In 2014, U.S. life expectancy was 78.9 years.

2. Commenting on the 0.1-year decline in life expectancy, Robert Anderson, PhD, chief of the mortality statistics branch at NCHS, told NPR¸ "For any individual, that's not a whole lot. But when you're talking about it in terms of a population, you're talking about a significant number of potential lives that aren't being lived."

3. The decline in life expectancy has coincided with year-over-year increases in drug overdose deaths, according to the NCHS report on drug overdose mortality. In 2016, more than 63,600 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S. — more than 42,200 of these overdoses were related to opioids. In 2015, more than 52,400 people died of drug overdoses — 33,000 of those overdoses were attributable to opioids.

4. The rise in the use of potent synthetic opioids has contributed to the increase in overall opioid overdose deaths. The rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl and its analogs doubled from 3.1 per 100,000 in 2015 to 6.2 per 100,000 in 2016. Dr. Anderson told NPR the increase in overdoses related to synthetic opioids was "far and above greater than any of the one-year increases that we've seen to this point."

5. Prior 2015, the last time the U.S. experienced a drop in life expectancy was in 1993 during the AIDS crisis. Life expectancy hasn't fallen for two consecutive years in the U.S. since 1962 and 1963.

"I'm not prone to dramatic statements," Dr. Anderson told NPR. "But I think we should be really alarmed. The drug overdose problem is a public health problem and it needs to be addressed. We need to get a handle on it."

More articles on opioids: 
Tennessee county files federal opioid lawsuit against drug companies 
Detroit and Macomb County file opioid epidemic lawsuit against drug companies, pharmacies 
Ohio's capital files opioid lawsuit against 25 drug companies

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