Life expectancy continues to decline in the US in 2017 compared to 2014, which is a historic deterioration due to the overdose crisis, but also the rise in suicides, according to data from health statistics released Thursday.
"This is the first time we've seen a downward trend since the great influenza epidemic since 1918," said Robert Anderson, head of mortality statistics at the National Health Statistics Center, which published AFP data. Anderson noted that the fall was much stronger in 1918.
In 2017, life expectancy at birth was 76.1 years for men and 81.1 years for women. The average for the population is 78.6 years, compared with 78.9 in 2014.
In addition, they are three and a half years less than in Canada on the other side of the border, and this is also affected by overdose.
"These statistics warn us and show that we are losing many Americans for reasons that can be avoided," said Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The drug overdose problem began in the early 2000s and its intensity has increased over the past four years.
In 2017, some 70,000 Americans died of drug overdose, which is 10 percent more than in 2016.
In terms of deaths, Anderson compared this situation with the rise in the HIV epidemic, but with one difference: that it is rapidly declining. The statistic expects an overdose to follow the same path. "We are a developed country, the expected life span must be increased, not reduced," he said.
Of 35 OECD countries, only Iceland has recently recorded a decrease in life expectancy by numbers by 2016. In other places, he has increased or stagnated.
Suicides also continued to rise in parallel in 2017 in the United States, reaching 47,000 deaths. Since 1999, the suicide rate has increased by 33%.
"We have a lot of work to do to change these trends," Democratic Congressman Bill Foster said.
– opioids –
There are two categories of overdose. One for non-pioid drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, and another, for psychostomulants, about 27,000 people were killed.
But the increase is largely due to the second category: opiates.
This includes heroin, morphine, and so-called semi-synthetic opiates, such as oxycodone, anti-prescription drugs, but sold on the black market with the help of compassionate doctors and laboratories who claim to ignore the problem and which are usually the gateway to addiction.
Lately, most deaths come from a new generation of drugs: synthetic opiates, such as fentanyl, tens of times stronger than heroin, making the smallest dose error fatal. About 28,000 Americans died in 2017 of fentanyl or similar drugs.
"The opiate market is now completely dominated by fentanyl," said Joshua Sharfstein, a former Health Officer in Maryland, who is currently at Johns Hopkins University for The Washington Post.
The rate of mortality from synthetic opiates has doubled from 2015 to 2016. Last year it increased by 45%.
But the numbers in 2017 revealed a detail that gives a relative hope: the number of overdoses continues to grow, but at a slower pace.
Preliminary data for 2018 even indicate that the crisis peaked this year. "But it's hard to say," because there are only data of several months for now, said cautious Robert Anderson.
In Staten Island, New York, Dr. Harshall Kirenne, director of the Dependency Service, avoids jumping to conclusions. "It's encouraging to see that the trajectory is curved, no doubt," he told AFP. "But 70,000 dead, it's still hard to digest."
In this plague, the whole country is not equally affected. The situation in the center, from Texas to South Dakota, is relatively safe.
The crisis is acute in New England, in the northeast corner, where overdose deaths provide more than a quarter of donations to organs, covering traffic accidents.
It is also very strong in two states of the old industrial belt (Ohio and Pennsylvania), and especially in the poor West Virginia, which is on the front side with the sadness of 58 deaths per 100,000 people, compared with a national average of 22