Life expectancy drops for second straight year due to COVID-19, drug overdoses, CDC report finds

Accelerating deaths from COVID-19 and drug overdoses fueled a second straight year of decline in life expectancy, to the lowest since 1996, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday.

The estimates, released in a new report that now analyzes “final data” on US death certificates tracked by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, formalize a steep decline initially reported by the agency based on “preliminary data” back . in August.

The final estimates differ little from the provisional ones released earlier this year. At the time of the August report, federal authorities had already received data on more than 99% of death certificates for 2021.

Americans born in 2021 are expected to live 76.4 years, the report’s authors now estimate. This is down from the 2019 high of 78.8 years.

Death rates worsened for every age group. Adjusted for age, the death rate increased by 5.3% from 2020 to 2021. This is less than the 16.8% increase from 2019 to 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shift also reflects a widening gap with America’s international peers, most of which had already outperformed the US before the pandemic.

An analysis released by the Kaiser Family Foundation earlier this month tracked life expectancy “recovering in most comparable” large and wealthy countries to 2021 as America’s life expectancy fell. The US continues to rank lowest among major economies.

COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the US for 2021, behind heart disease and cancer. 416,893 Americans had the disease as the underlying cause on their death certificates, up from 350,831 in 2020.

The disease appears on track to remain the leading cause of death for 2022, albeit less than in previous years of the pandemic.

So far this year, 233,523 death certificates blaming COVID-19 have been reported to the agency. The US averages 386 new deaths from COVID-19 per day.

Overdose deaths

Behind COVID-19, the second biggest increase in causes of death last year was from “unintentional injuries”, which rose by 12.3% to 64.7 lives lost per 100,000 people.

That includes drug overdoses, which the NCHS says account for a third of deaths in the category and are largely responsible for the acceleration seen in 2021.

There were 106,999 drug overdose deaths, the agency said in a separate report released Wednesday, or 32.4 per 100,000 people.

Overdose death rates are now five times worse than they were two decades ago.

The highest rate of drug overdose deaths in 2021 remained among adults ages 35 to 44. Seniors aged 65 and over had the lowest death rate, but saw “the largest percentage increase” from 2020.

Drug overdose death rates worsened among every racial group except Asians. American Indians, or Alaska Natives, continue to see the highest death rates and among the largest percentage increases.

Broken down by the type of drug linked to each overdose, NCHS data show that the death rate continues to rise sharply for opioids overall as well as synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

Among stimulant-related deaths, cocaine has now been surpassed for another year by other “psychostimulants of abuse” such as methamphetamine. Compared to 2020, the mortality rate increased by 33% in this last category.

Heroin was the only drug highlighted by the agency to see a lower death rate in 2021.

However, preliminary CDC data for this year suggests drug overdoses may also slow this year. 107,735 deaths may have occurred for the 12 months ending July 2022.

“Today’s data represents a steady slowdown in the rate of increase in overdose deaths for the ninth consecutive month and a decline in rolling 12-month totals for the fourth consecutive month,” the White House said in a statement. month after the new launch.

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