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Fewer “Deaths of Despair” Increase U.S. Life Expectancy


Good news: U.S. life expectancy has increased. From the New York Times story:

Life expectancy increased for the first time in four years in 2018, the federal government said Thursday, raising hopes that a benchmark of the nation’s health may finally be stabilizing after a rare and troubling decline that was driven by a surge in drug overdoses.

Part of the reason for the improvement was a decrease in what are known as “deaths of despair”:

Deaths from overdoses dropped by 4.1 percent in 2018, to 67,367 from 70,237 in 2017. The decrease was largely driven by a dip in deaths from prescription opioid painkillers, which set off the opioid epidemic in the late 1990s before heroin and, later, fentanyl moved in. Provisional data suggests those deaths continued to fall in 2019, likely in part because of restrictions on prescribing.

Unstated, but perhaps a contributing factor, was the increasing prosperity we have enjoyed in country in recent years, with unemployment levels dropping into the subbasement. If people have hope of improving their lives, they are less likely to resort to addictive substances as a means of escape.

There were also improvements in fighting cancer with a 2.2 percent decline in mortality from the Big C:

These improvements were driven largely by a decline in the mortality rate for lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death. Continued drops in the country’s smoking rate and advances in treatment, such as more precise tumor classification, better surgical techniques, and improved drug therapies, contributed to the progress, Ms. Siegel said.

Despite this good news, we are still not where we need to be. We still have a suicide crisis on our hands as — bizarrely — efforts to legalize assisted suicide increase. And deaths by fentanyl increased. But at least we seem to again be heading in the right direction.

Photo credit: Jen Theodore on Unsplash.

Cross-posted at The Corner.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.



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