What’s Really Causing the Decline in US Life Expectancy? It’s Not Opioid Overdoses.

From the Washington Post:

For the second year in a row, life expectancy in the United States has dropped. It is not hard to understand why: In 2016, there was a 21 percent rise in the number of deaths caused by drug overdoses, with opioids causing two-thirds of them. Last year, the opioid epidemic killed 42,000 people, more than died of AIDS in any year at the height of the crisis.

In 2016, according to the CDC, 2.7 million people died in America. An extra 7,000 deaths from drug overdoses is a tragedy, but surely it’s not enough to move the needle on life expectancy? Besides, opioids are supposedly the “white” drug, and the age-adjusted death rate for whites was down in 2016. It’s the death rate of blacks that went up, especially black men.

This made me curious, so I looked around to see where this meme came from:

Here’s the abstract from a JAMA report: “Specific contributions of drug, opioid, and alcohol poisonings to changes in US life expectancy since 2000 are unknown.Here’s a Scientific American synopsis of CDC data:While the authors didn’t draw a direct link, another report also released Thursday by the CDC found an estimated 63,600 people died of opioid overdoses in 2016.” According to this chart, about 11,000 more whites died from opioid overdoses last year compared to 2015, but the white death rate went down. Obviously that didn’t contribute to lower life expectancy. Only about 1,200 additional blacks died of opioid overdoses, and that’s definitely not enough to move the needle on overall life expectancy.

Maybe I’m missing something in the subtleties of how death rates correspond to life expectancies, but the change in life expectancy seems like it’s being driven by blacks, especially black men. And the number of opioid overdoses among blacks is too small to impact the overall national life expectancy more than a hair. There’s something else going on, but what?

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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