A trend or a blip?

For only the second time in the last 60 years, the United States experienced a drop in the life expectancy of its citizens in 2016 for two years in a row.

The National Center for Health Statistics reported that for both the years 2015 and 2016, life expectancy dropped for males and females. The statistics were released on Dec. 20, 2017, and revealed that the average American alive today can expect to live 78.6 years, according to a story on CNN.

The average female can expect to live to 81.1 years and the average male is looking at a life expectancy of 76.1 years.

While all of this data reflect an astonishing gain of years from the mid-20th century, 2015 and 2016 were the first years since 1962 and 1963 where life expectancy dropped two years in a row.

In 2014, the average male could expect to live to 76.5 years, the average female to 81.3 years. So the last two years have brought a drop of a third-of-a-year for men and a sixth-of-a-year for women. The combined life expectancy of men and women has dropped a quarter-of-a-year from 78.9 years in 2014 to 78.6 years in 2016.

While the experts caution that two years may not necessarily mark a trend, there are some warning signs. The CNN story quoted Bob Anderson, the chief of mortality statistics at NCHS, as being very concerned about accidental drug overdose deaths, which are included in a category called “unintentional injuries.”

“It just keeps going up and up and appears to be accelerating,” Anderson told CNN. In 2016, these overdoses accounted for 63,600 deaths. Anderson said that for years gains in treating cardiovascular diseases more than offset accidental overdoses. Now, though, the CV gains seem to be slowing and the overdoses increasing.

Again, though, Anderson hesitated to call the drop in life expectancy for two years a trend. He did caution, however, that if it proved to drop again in 2017, it would be the first time in a century for a three-year decline. The last time it happened — in 1917 — the country was swamped by the Spanish influenza.

It is more than scary to think that a self-inflicted epidemic like opioid overdoses is being compared to a plague of the past.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.