Life expectancy in the United States has fallen for two straight years, the first time this has occurred in more than half a century. The cause of this alarming trend is the sharp rise in opioid deaths, which have outpaced length of life gains from medical advancements. On average, Americans born today can expect to live 78.6 years. Residents of the United States who die before 75 are said to have died prematurely.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans die prematurely every year from accidents, curable disease, suicide, murder, drug overdose and other preventable causes.
Deaths from accidental injury, which includes the over 50,000 Americans who died from opioid overdoses last year, as well as traffic fatalities, are one of the leading causes of death in the United States. While lives are frequently cut short by accidents, suicide, and drug misuse — sometimes called deaths of despair — most premature deaths occur as a consequence of long-term unhealthy behaviors, poor access to medical care, and other conditions. Over time these risk factors can lead to common causes of death including heart disease, lung cancer, and diabetes.
Rather than treating them as separate problems, premature deaths from accidents and those from cancer and heart disease are actually closely related. Carol Graham, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has written extensively on the subject of premature mortality in America, told 24/7 Wall St. that the population at risk of accidents are the same group that abuse their bodies over years and die of disease well before reaching old age.
“While [cancer and heart disease] can be differentiated from deaths of despair, the underlying cause — the reality of the economic situation for a large segment of the nation’s population — is the same for many who engage in this behavior. In addition to being more likely to abuse opioids, they are more likely to smoke, and to become obese, two of the most common causes of premature death. ” she said.
Using premature mortality figures collected by the Centers for Disease Control in its WONDER database, 24/7 wall st. ranked all 50 states based on the rate of residents who die before the age of 75.
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