American Life Expectancy Is Declining for the Second Year in a Row, and Things Will Probably Get Worse

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

A new report from the National Center for Health Statistics indicates that life expectancy in the U.S. is in decline for the second year in a row, especially where people aged 15-34 were concerned, in large part due to the staggering impact of the unchecked opioid epidemic. Of the 63,600 deaths in 2016 attributed to drug overdose, more than 42,200 were due to opioids. In 2015, there were 52,400 overdose-related deaths, and 33,000 of them involved opioids. West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania were the four states with the highest observed (age-adjusted) overdose death rates in 2016.

Overall, in 2016, life expectancy fell from 78.7 in 2015 to 78.6. In 2014, life expectancy held steady at 78.9, marking last year’s drop as the first time since the AIDS crisis that American life expectancy has collectively dipped.

Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the US National Center for Health Statistics, told NPR that mortality rate is a good litmus test for what’s going on in the nation at large, and that a downward trend is cause for grave concern.


Also speaking with NPR, Princeton economist Anne Case added that an uptick in suicides and death by alcohol poisoning could be the consequences of an increasingly unstable middle class and a dearth of well-paying jobs. Case calls these “deaths of despair.”

Perhaps contributing significantly to the nation’s collective descent into abject unhappiness? An administration that refuses to have an innovative or proactive perspective on curbing the fallout from drug abuse.


In October, the president declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency and promised that funds would be allocated towards large-scale campaigns mirroring the “Just Say No” ads of the Reagan era. Trump subsequently named White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, who has no experience when it comes to drug policy or large scale health crises, as the point person in the opioid epidemic efforts. Conway is a strict adherent to “don’t start in the first place” prevention practices, which have been statistically proven ineffective time and again.

Trump’s promised barrage of prevention ads have yet to materialize, while in November Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged $12 million in funding for state and local law enforcement partners in order to slap possessors of fentanyl analogue with criminal prosecution, which will no doubt prove to be a boon for the prison industrial complex and a hindrance for American victims of addiction.