Life expectancy in the U.S. fell for the second year in a row in 2016, nudged down again by a surge in fatal opioid overdoses, federal officials report Thursday.
“I’m not prone to dramatic statements,” says Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics. “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.”
The trend is especially concerning because life expectancy is considered an important indicator of the general well-being of a nation.
“It gives you sort of an overall sense of what’s going on,” Anderson says.
Life expectancy, which is the average time someone is expected to live, generally has been rising steadily for decades in the United States, with only occasional downward ticks.
The last time the U.S. life expectancy dropped was in 1993 because of the AIDS epidemic. Life expectancy hasn’t fallen two years in a row in the U.S. since the early 1960s.
Tens of thousands of Americans have died from opioid overdoses in recent years. A report released Thursday found drug overdoses jumped significantly in 2016 to more than 63,600, and more than 42,200 of them were attributed to opioids. #ShareWithOthers