Robert Anderson, mortality statistics chief at the National Center for Health Statistics says he's "not prone to dramatic statements"—but he thinks we should be "really alarmed" by the finding that Americans' life expectancy has gone down for the second year in a row. The average life expectancy went down 0.1 years to 78.6 years in 2016, the center says. This is the first time there have been two declines in a row since 1963—when the smoking rate was near its peak and there was a wave of flu deaths—and researchers say the main cause is the increase in drug overdose deaths, the Guardian reports. The center says more than 63,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, with two-thirds of the overdoses involving opioids like heroin, fentanyl, and oxycodone, CNN reports.
Last year, when the average life expectancy declined for the first time in 22 years, set a record for overdose deaths, but 2017 is on course to be even worse, meaning the US could see life expectancy fall for three years in a row for the first time since the Spanish flu a century ago, Anderson says. He says the figures are especially worrying because the life expectancy figures can be seen as a measure of the nation's overall health. Princeton University economist Anne Case tells NPR that deaths from alcohol and suicide are also up. She believes the deaths may be linked to the decline in stable, well-paid jobs, which means "people don't have the stability and a hope for the future that they might have had in the past." (The opioid crisis has caused a "tsunami" of cases for the child welfare system.)