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U.S. Life Expectancy Increases For The First Time In Years

The life expectancy of the average U.S. citizen has gone up for the first time since 2014. A major contributing factor to this is likely the fact that cancer death rates have declined the most they have in U.S. history within the past year. Additionally, drug overdose deaths, whether intentional or unintentional, have also seen a major decrease since 2018, some good news for a country that’s typically always devastated by physical and mental health statistics. 

The reports come from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and went on to emphasize how drug overdose deaths have decreased by 4% nationwide since 2018, a shocking statistic considering the increasing threat of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s caused countless accidental overdoses; including that of famous rapper Mac Miller who passed away in September 2018. 

However, the CDC credits the overall increase in life expectancy to the decrease in deaths caused by cancer or heart disease; the two leading causes of death in the world. The average American now has a life expectancy of 78.7 years, which is one tenth of a year more than what the CDC said in 2017. While one tenth of a year may not seem like that big of a deal, in terms of preventable and unpreventable causes of death it says a lot, especially to the professionals who are working with those who are sick with these diseases; it indicates to them that what they’re doing is working, even if it’s just a little.  

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“While modest, it’s really great news that the data shows progress. We have to be a little bit optimistic that some of our approaches to the problems worked, but let’s strike while the iron’s hot. I credit [the decline in overdose rates to] the overdose antidote, naloxone, which states and cities have made available so emergency workers and others can save the lives of people overdosing on opiods. But naloxone is a last resort that doesn’t get at the root causes of why people turn to drugs or suicide,” said psychologist Benjamin Miller, chief strategy officer at the non profit Well Being Trust.

Miller is referring to the stigma surrounding mental health and its relation to addiction. The fact is, substance abuse and addiction isn’t seen by general society as a real illness because it has to do with will-power and your brain, not multiplying cancer cells that you have no control over in your organs. However, mental illness is just as severe as physical illness, and the statistics can back up that both are just as uncontrollable and deadly. 

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Destigmatizing addiction and expanding accessible mental health resources won’t fix everything, but it’s definitely a start, and the new data from the CDC proves that it works too. Miller emphasized this point as well, stating that within the past few years medication-assisted treatment for those addicted to opioids has become more accessible. This is extremely important as addiction to opioids specifically has become one of the biggest health epidemics the U.S. has ever endured. 

Before this new data, for the past three years the U.S. has seen a relatively steady decline in life expectancy due to disease and accidental death rates. Drug overdoses are looped into this conversation because they account for over a third of all accidental deaths in the U.S.. Accidental deaths are within the top 10 leading causes of death as well, and that top 10 has remained stagnant as well for the past few years. 

Other top leading causes of death in the U.S. include pneumonia when coupled with the flu, heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries that lead to unexpected complications, lower respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and suicide. By further opening up these conversations regarding mental health and addiction, we can at least work on preventing some of those top 10 causes from increasing while we let medical and mental health professionals work on the rest.