Drug Overdoses May Play Role in Slight Drop in Life Expectancy for White Americans

A new government report finds there was a slight decline in the life expectancy of white Americans in 2014. Drug overdoses, liver disease and suicide were the main factors in the decrease, according to the lead researcher from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The report found life expectancy for whites decreased to 78.8 years in 2014, from 78.9 the previous year, according to The New York Times. Women’s life expectancy declined from 81.2 in 2013 to 81.1 in 2014. Men’s life expectancy stayed the same, at 76.5 years.

The death rate increase was most pronounced among whites in their mid-20s to their mid-50s, the report found. “The increase in death in this segment of the population was great enough to affect life expectancy at birth for the whole group,” said lead researcher Elizabeth Arias, a statistician at the National Center for Health. “That is very unusual.”

The overall life expectancy for Americans remained at 78.8 years. Among blacks, life expectancy rose to 75.6 in 2014, from 75.5 the previous year. Hispanic life expectancy increased from 81.6 in 2013 to 81.8 in 2014.

A study published in November 2015 found the death rate of white middle-aged Americans is on the rise, driven in large part because of drug and alcohol overdoses, suicide, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis of the liver.

The Princeton University researchers said no other industrialized country has seen a similar deterioration in health during the 15 years studied, from 1999 to 2013. The researchers connected rising death rates in middle-aged whites to factors including increasing reports of pain, growing psychological distress, more alcohol poisonings and greater availability of prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin.

The study found death rates of U.S. Hispanics and blacks decreased during the same period.

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