Wednesday December 19, 2018
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U.S. Life Expectancy Cut Due To Suicides And Overdoses

A baby born last year in the U.S. is expected to live about 78 years and 7 months, on average.

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Suicide, Life expectancy
A young volunteer helps set up lights in paper bags decorated with messages for loved ones during an Out of the Darkness Walk event organized by the Cincinnati Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. VOA
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Suicides and drug overdoses helped lead a surge in U.S. deaths last year, and drove a continuing decline in how long Americans are expected to live.

Overall, there were more than 2.8 million U.S. deaths in 2017, or nearly 70,000 more than the previous year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. It was the most deaths in a single year since the government began counting more than a century ago.

The increase partly reflects the nation’s growing and aging population. But it’s deaths in younger age groups — particularly middle-aged people — that have had the largest impact on calculations of life expectancy, experts said.

 

Prince, Drugs, Overdose, Life expectancy
A mural honoring the late Prince adorns a building in the Uptown area of Minneapolis, Aug 28, 2016. The rock star died of an overdose at the age of 57. VOA

 

The suicide death rate last year was the highest it’s been in at least 50 years, according to U.S. government records. There were more than 47,000 suicides, up from a little less than 45,000 the year before.

A general decline

For decades, U.S. life expectancy was on the upswing, rising a few months nearly every year. Now it’s trending the other way: It fell in 2015, stayed level in 2016, and declined again last year, the CDC said.

The nation is in the longest period of a generally declining life expectancy since the late 1910s, when World War I and the worst flu pandemic in modern history combined to kill nearly 1 million Americans. Life expectancy in 1918 was 39.

Aside from that, “we’ve never really seen anything like this,’’ said Robert Anderson, who oversees CDC death statistics.

Suicide, Life expectancy
A makeshift memorial for actor Robin Wlliiams is shown outside a home which was used in the filming of the movie “Mrs. Doubtfire”, Aug. 15, 2014, in San Francisco. Authorities said Williams committed suicide. (VOA)

In the nation’s 10 leading causes of death, only the cancer death rate fell in 2017. Meanwhile, there were increases in seven others: suicide, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, flu/pneumonia, chronic lower respiratory diseases and unintentional injuries.

An underlying factor is that the death rate for heart disease, the nation’s No. 1 killer, has stopped falling. In years past, declines in heart disease deaths were enough to offset increases in some other kinds of death, but no longer, Anderson said.

The CDC’s numbers do sometimes change. This week, CDC officials said they had revised their life expectancy estimate for 2016 after some additional data came in.

What’s driving this?

CDC officials did not speculate about what’s behind declining life expectancy, but Dr. William Dietz, a disease prevention expert at George Washington University, sees a sense of hopelessness.

Suicide, Life expectancy
Women cry after placing flowers in a square in central Manchester, Britain, May 24, 2017, after the suicide attack at an Ariana Grande concert that left more than 20 people dead. VOA

Financial struggles, a widening income gap and divisive politics are all casting a pall over many Americans, he suggested.

“I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless, and that that leads to drug use, it leads potentially to suicide,’’ he said.

Drug overdose deaths also continued to climb, surpassing 70,000 last year, in the midst of the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in U.S. history. The death rate rose 10 percent from the previous year, smaller than the 21 percent jump seen between 2016 and 2017.

That’s not quite a cause for celebration, said Dr. John Rowe, a professor of health policy and aging at Columbia University.

“Maybe it’s starting to slow down, but it hasn’t turned around yet,’’ Rowe said. “I think it will take several years.”

Suicide, Life expectancy
Dorothy Paugh, a suicide prevention advocate, lost her father and her son to suicide. VOA

Accidental drug overdoses account for more than a third of the unintentional injury deaths, and intentional drug overdoses account for about a tenth of the suicides, said Dr. Holly Hedegaard, a CDC injury epidemiologist.

Other findings

The CDC figures are based mainly on a review of 2017 death certificates. The life expectancy figure is based on current death trends and other factors.

Also Read: Suicide Rates On The Rise Among U.S. Workers

The agency also said:

  • A baby born last year in the U.S. is expected to live about 78 years and 7 months, on average. An American born in 2015 or 2016 was expected to live about a month longer, and one born in 2014 about two months longer than that.
  • The suicide rate was 14 deaths per 100,000 people. That’s the highest since at least 1975.
  • The percentage of suicides from drug overdose has been inching downward.
  • Deaths from flu and pneumonia rose by about 6 percent. The 2017-2018 flu season was one of the worst in more than a decade, and some of the deaths from early in that season appeared in the new death dates.
  • West Virginia was once again the state with the highest rate of drug overdose deaths. The CDC did not release state rates for suicides.
  • Death rates for heroin, methadone and prescription opioid painkillers were flat. But deaths from the powerful painkiller fentanyl and its close opioid cousins continued to soar in 2017.
  • The CDC did not discuss 2017 gun deaths in the reports released Thursday. But earlier CDC reports noted increase rates of suicide by gun and by suffocation or hanging. (VOA)
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Russia Declines Allegation Reports Alleging Its Meddling in The U.S. Elections

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election

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Russia
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow. VOA

The size and scope of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was far more extensive and thorough than previously understood, according to two newly released reports.

The reports that emerged this week support conclusions by the U.S. intelligence community — and published in an unclassified January 2017 report — that the goal of all of Russia’s meddling in the months leading up to the 2016 elections was to get their preferred candidate elected president of the United States.

“What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party and specifically Donald Trump,” according to the report by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and network analysis firm Graphika.

Russia on Tuesday rejected the allegations in the two reports. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the accusations baseless.

The findings, as first reported by The Washington Post, said Russians working for a group called the Internet Research Agency (IRA) began experimenting with social media to influence local elections in 2009 and expanded its operations to U.S. elections in 2013 using Twitter.

 

Russia
A view of a business center Internet Research Agency, known as the so-called troll factory’s new office, in St. Petersburg, Russia. VOA

It gradually added other popular social media sites to its campaign, including YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, using race and social issues such as gun rights, immigration and police brutality, to sow division and discontent.

 

“Conservative and right-wing voters were actively encouraged to get behind Trump’s campaign,” according to the report by Oxford and Graphika. “Other voters were encouraged to boycott the election, abstain from voting for Clinton, or to spread cynicism about participating in the election in general.”

Russia’s IRA activity also sought out African-American voters in particular with advertising on Facebook and Instagram and with video content on YouTube.

“Most of the interest-based targeting focused on African-American communities and interests,” the second report by the cybersecurity firm New Knowledge showed.

“Messaging to African-Americans sought to divert their political energy away from established political institutions by preying on anger with structural inequalities faced by African-Americans, including police violence, poverty and disproportionate levels of incarceration,” the Oxford University-Graphika report added. “These campaigns pushed a message that the best way to advance the cause of the African-American community was to boycott the election and focus on other issues instead.”

USA, trump, russia
Former Donald Trump presidential campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, center, who triggered the Russia investigation, leaves federal court with wife Simona Mangiante, on Sept. 7, 2018, in Washington. VOA

 

Other groups such as liberals, women, Muslims, Latinos and veterans were also targeted with similar messages either appealing to their politics or trying to discourage them from voting.

This newly released data demonstrates how aggressively Russia sought to divide Americans by race, religion and ideology, and how the IRA actively worked to erode trust in our democratic institutions,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican, said in a statement Monday. “Most troublingly, it shows that these activities have not stopped.”

“This should stand as a wake-up call,” added Senate Intelligence Committee vice chair, Democrat Mark Warner, who has been critical of social media companies and the way they have handled Russia’s online influence campaigns.

“It is time to get serious in addressing this challenge,” Warner said. “That is going to require some much-needed and long-overdue guardrails when it comes to social media.”

The Oxford-Graphika report said it is clear the response by social media companies has been lacking.

Michael Cohen, Trump, Russia
Michael Cohen walks out of federal court, Nov. 29, 2018, in New York, after pleading guilty to lying to Congress about work he did on an aborted project to build a Trump Tower in Russia. VOA

“We clearly observe a belated and uncoordinated response from the platforms that provided the data,” the report said. “In some cases, activity on one platform was detected and suspended months before similar action was taken against related activity on another platform.”

In a statement Monday, Facebook said it continues to “fully cooperate with officials investigating the IRA’s activity on Facebook and Instagram around the 2016 election.”

“We’ve made progress in helping prevent interference on our platforms during elections, strengthened our policies against voter suppression ahead of the 2018 midterms, and funded independent research on the impact of social media on democracy,” the statement said, adding the company believes Congress and intelligence officials “are best placed to use the information we and others provide.”

“Our singular focus is to improve the health of the public conversation on our platform,” Twitter said in a statement of its own. “We’ve made significant strides since 2016 to counter manipulation of our service, including our release of additional data in October related to previously disclosed activities to enable further independent academic research and investigation.”

U.S.A. Trump, Russia
Former FBI Director James Comey, with his attorney, David Kelley, right, speaks to reporters after a day of testimony before the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

Google reactions

The reports, though, indicate the measures that have been taken may not be enough, as Russia and others continue to make use of social media platforms.

The Oxford-Graphika report said Russia’s use of social media did not peak until after the election, with the IRA buying the most ad volume on Facebook in April 2017, shortly after the U.S. airstrikes against chemical weapon sites in Syria.

And U.S. intelligence and military officials have told VOA that Russia continued to target segments of U.S. society, including ongoing efforts to influence U.S. military personnel and their families in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections.

The United States has already leveled criminal charges against IRA for interfering in the 2016 campaign.

Current and former intelligence officials also warn that it would be a mistake to focus only on Russia’s use of social media, pointing to last week’s guilty plea by Russian spy Maria Butina, who admitted to using the National Rifle Association to get close to key conservative politicians.

U.S.A., Trump, Russia
In these 2018 photos, Paul Manafort leaves federal court in Washington, left and attorney Michael Cohen leaves federal court in New York. VOA

“It illustrates … the astute understanding the Russians have of our political ecosystem,” James Clapper, former director of National Intelligence, told VOA.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election and whether the president has tried to obstruct justice by trying to undermine the probe.

Also Read: Russians Helped Trump To Win On Every Social Media Platform: Senate Report

Trump denies there was any collusion and calls the Mueller probe a “witch hunt.” (VOA)