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Overdose and suicide stop life expectancy in the US

Life expectancy continues to decline in the United States in 2017 compared to 2014, a historical slump mainly due to the crisis of drug overdose, but also an increase in suicide, according to health statistics published on Thursday.

"This is the first time we have seen a downward trend since the major influenza epidemic of 1918," Robert Anderson, head of death statistics at the National Center for Health Statistics, which reported the data, told AFP. However, Anderson pointed out that the decline 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 that is also affected by overdoses.

"These statistics warn us and show that we are losing a lot of Americans, soon, from avoidable causes," said Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The specter of drug overdoses began in the early 2000s and the intensity has increased over the past four years.

In 2017, around 70,000 Americans die from drug overdoses, 10% more than in 2016.

In terms of death, Anderson compared this situation with the emergence of the HIV epidemic but with one difference: that it rapidly declined. Statisticians expect overdoses to follow the same path. "We are a developed country, life expectancy must increase, not decrease," he said.

Of the 35 OECD countries, only Iceland has recently experienced a decline in life expectancy, according to figures up to 2016. In the remaining places, it has increased or stagnated.

Suicide also continues to increase 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 reverse this trend," said Democratic Congressman Bill Foster.

– Opioids –

There are two categories of overdose. One for non-opioid drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, and another, for psychostimulants, of which approximately 27,000 people die.

But this increase was largely due to the second category: opiates.

These include heroin, morphine and the so-called semisynthetic opiates, such as oxycodone, painkillers that are prescribed but sold on the black market, with the help of doctors and laboratories involved who claim to ignore problems, and which are usually gates of addiction.

Lately, most deaths have come from new generation drugs: synthetic opiates, such as fentanyl, are dozens of times stronger than heroin, where even the smallest doses can be fatal. About 28,000 Americans die in 2017 from fentanyl or similar drugs.

"The opiate market is now truly dominated by fentanyl," said Joshua Sharfstein, a former Maryland health official at Johns Hopkins University, told The Washington Post.

The death rate from synthetic opiates has doubled from 2015 to 2016. Last year, it increased 45%.

But the 2017 figures reveal details that give relative hope: the number of overdoses continues to grow, but at a slower pace.

Preliminary data for 2018 even shows that the crisis peaked earlier this year. "But it's hard to say," because there are only a few months of data at the moment, cautioned Robert Anderson.

On Staten Island, New York, Dr. Harshal Kirane, director of addiction services, avoids jumping to conclusions. "It's very exciting to see that the track is curved, without a doubt," he told AFP. "But 70,000 people die, it's still hard to digest."

Not all countries are equally affected by this outbreak. Central state, from Texas to South Dakota, is relatively safe.

This crisis is acute in New England, in the northeast corner, where overdose deaths provide more than a quarter of organ donations, which rival traffic accidents.

This is also very strong in the two old industrial belt states (Ohio and Pennsylvania) and especially in very poor West Virginia, which is ahead with a sad figure of 58 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to the national average of 22

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