A series of federal reports released Wednesday showed Americans’ life expectancy is dropping, and rising suicides and drug overdoses shoulder much of the blame.
The report on mortality in the United States, compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed an overall increase in deaths from 2016 to 2017, from 729 deaths per 100,000 people to 732, with the biggest increases in the age groups 85 and older and from 25 to 44. This adds up to an overall drop in life expectancy from 78.7 years to 78.6.
Black men have the highest death rates overall, and their rate of dying increased from 1,081.2 per 100,000 in 2016 to 1,083.3 in 2017. Percentage-wise, though, white people saw the biggest increases in their death rates, from 879.5 to 885.1 for white men and 637.2 to 642.8 for white women. The death rate for Hispanic men held steady at 631.8 per 100,000, and for Hispanic women it dropped a bit from 436.2 to 434.2.
The CDC released two companion reports examining deaths from suicide and drug overdoses. Nationally, the rate of suicide deaths increased from 13.5 to 14 per 100,000 Americans from 2016 to 2017, or from 44,965 suicides to 47,173. The rate of drug overdose deaths increased from 63,632 to 70,237, or from 19.8 to 21.7 per 100,000 people. Men are substantially more likely than women both to kill themselves and to die from overdoses.
“Tragically, this troubling trend is largely driven by deaths from drug overdose and suicide,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a news release. “Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable.”
Traditionally, Idaho has had one of the highest suicide rates in the country but a lower-than-average rate of drug overdose deaths. In 2016, according to data the CDC released a year ago, Idaho had the eighth-highest suicide rate in the country, at 20.9 per 100,000 inhabitants. Idaho is part of a cluster of high-suicide, mostly rural counties that spans from eastern Oregon and Washington and northern California through the Intermountain West and stretching into the Dakotas.
The CDC’s latest report doesn’t break down the suicide numbers by state but it does break them down for overdoses. And here there’s a bit of good news. The number of drug overdose deaths in Idaho dropped slightly, bucking the national trend. In 2017, 236 Idahoans died from drug overdoses, making for a rate of 14.4 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants according to the CDC. In 2016, 243 Idahoans died from overdoses, for a rate of 15.2 deaths per 100,000. Thirty-six states and Washington D.C. had higher overdose death rates than Idaho last year. Overdose death rates in the West, measured by state, were mostly lower than or similar to the national rate, with the highest death rates in New England, Appalachia, the Mid-Atlantic states and the Midwest.
These numbers, however, conceal big differences within the state. Public health districts 6 and 7, which cover eastern and southeastern Idaho, had the highest overdose death rates in the state from 2013 to 2017, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. And from 2014 to 2016, Bannock and Bonneville counties had the highest overdose death rates out of the six largest Idaho counties for which DHW calculates a rate. A data analysis by NORC at the University of Chicago reached the same conclusion. Looking at overdose death rates among people aged 15 to 64 from 2007 to 2011 and 2012 to 2016, Bonneville County had the highest rate out of the 22 Idaho counties with more than 20 deaths in a five-year period, followed closely by Bannock County.
Paramedics in Idaho Falls have been carrying Naloxone, a drug to revive people who have overdosed on opioids, for years, and the police started to carry it earlier this year as well.
While statistics on the drugs involved in overdoses are complicated by the fact that the drug isn’t recorded for every death and some overdoses involve multiple drugs, more than 40 percent of fatal overdoses in Idaho seem to involve opioids, according to the DHW’s numbers, more than any other single drug category, with prescription pills being the most common culprit.
Overdose deaths from heroin and fentanyl have been on the rise in Idaho — heroin deaths increased from 17 to 26 from 2015 to 2016, and deaths from synthetic opioids other than methadone jumped from 16 to 27 — but still represent a smaller portion of deaths overall. In Idaho in 2016, 43 percent of opioid overdose deaths involved pills, 20 percent involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and 19 percent involved heroin, according to DHW’s statistics. This is somewhat different from the national data, which has shown heroin and especially synthetic opioids playing a far bigger role in driving the rise in deaths. According to the CDC’s latest numbers, 60 percent of opioid overdose deaths in 2017 involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, almost a third involved heroin and 30 percent involved “natural and semisynthetic opioids,” the category that includes common pills such as hydrocodone and oxycodone.
Bonneville, Caribou and nine other Idaho counties are suing some of the country’s biggest drug manufacturers and pharmacies, alleging they drove the rise of the opioid epidemic via false advertising about the safety of opioid painkillers and failing to stop suspect shipments destined for abuse. The case is pending in federal court in Ohio’s Northern District along with similar lawsuits filed by cities and counties in other states.