Pubdate: Thu, 21 Dec 2017
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2017 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Mike Stobbe, The Associated Press


A runaway teen to mother: 'I'll be fine mommy. I love you.' Hours
later she and two others were dead

NEW YORK (AP) - U.S. deaths from drug overdoses skyrocketed 21 percent
last year, and for the second straight year dragged down how long
Americans are expected to live.

The government figures released Thursday put drug deaths at 63,600, up
from about 52,000 in 2015. For the first time, the powerful painkiller
fentanyl and its close opioid cousins played a bigger role in the
deaths than any other legal or illegal drug, surpassing prescription
pain pills and heroin.

"This is urgent and deadly," said Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, director of
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The opioid epidemic
"clearly has a huge impact on our entire society."

Two-thirds of last year's drug deaths - about 42,000 - involved
opioids, a category that includes heroin, methadone, prescription pain
pills like OxyContin, and fentanyl. Fatal overdoses that involved
fentanyl and fentanyl-like drugs doubled in one year, to more than
19,000, mostly from illegally made pills or powder, which is often
mixed with heroin or other drugs.

Heroin was tied to 15,500 deaths and prescription painkillers to
14,500 deaths. The balance of the overdose deaths involved sedatives,
cocaine and methamphetamines. More than one drug is often involved in
an overdose death.

The highest drug death rates were in ages 25 to 54.

Pennsylvania experienced the second-largest rate increase in the
nation, and moved up two notches in state rankings to fourth place in
drug-related fatality rates. New Jersey moved up six places to 18th.

Preliminary 2017 figures show the rise in overdose deaths continuing

The drug deaths weigh into CDC's annual calculation of the average
time a person is expected to live. The life expectancy figure is based
on the year of their birth, current death trends and other factors.
For decades, it was on the upswing, rising a few months nearly every
year. But last year marked the first time in more than a half century
that U.S. life expectancy fell two consecutive years.

A baby born last year in the U.S. is expected to live about 78 years
and 7 months, on average, the CDC said. An American born in 2015 was
expected to live about a month longer and one born in 2014 about two
months longer than that.

The dip in 2015 was blamed on drug deaths and an unusual upturn in the
death rate for the nation's leading killer, heart disease. Typically,
life expectancy goes back up after a one-year decline, said Robert
Anderson, who oversees the CDC's death statistics. The last time there
was a two-year drop was 1962-1963. It also happened twice in the 1920s.

"If we don't get a handle on this," he said, "we could very well see a
third year in a row. With no end in sight."

A three-year decline happened in 1916, 1917 and 1918, which included
the worst flu pandemic in modern history.

Overall, there were more than 2.7 million U.S. deaths in 2016, or
about 32,000 more than the previous year. It was the most deaths in a
single year since the government has been counting. That partly
reflects the nation's growing and aging population. But death rates
last year continued to go down for people who are 65 and older while
going up for all younger adults - those most affected by the opioid

The CDC also reported :

- -West Virginia continued to be the state with highest drug overdose
death rate, with a rate of 52 deaths per 100,000 state residents in
2016. Ohio and New Hampshire were next, both at about 39 per 100,000.

- -Life expectancy for men decreased, but it held steady for women. That
increased the gender gap to five years; about 76 for men and 81 for

- -U.S. death rates decreased for seven of the 10 leading causes of
death, but rose for suicide, Alzheimer's disease and for a category
called unintentional injuries (which includes drug overdoses).

- -Accidental injuries displaced chronic lower respiratory diseases to
become the nation's third leading cause of death. Contributing were
increases in deaths from car crashes and falls.

- -Gun deaths rose for a second year, to nearly 39,000. They had been
hovering around 33,500 deaths a few years ago.

The United States ranks below dozens of other high-income countries in
life expectancy, according to the World Bank. Highest is Japan, at
nearly 84 years.

"The fact that U.S. has basically stagnated over the past seven years
- - and now we're seeing small declines - is a real sign that the U.S.
is doing badly," said Jessica Ho, a University of Southern California
researcher who studies death trends.

Inquirer staff writer Don Sapatkin contributed to this article.
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MAP posted-by: Matt