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'Depths of despair' drive third consecutive drop in U.S. life expectancy

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Opioid Crisis State vs Local
In this Aug. 17, 2018, file photo, family and friends who have lost loved ones to OxyContin and opioid overdoses leave pill bottles in protest outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, which is owned by the Sackler family, in Stamford, Conn. New York is suing the billionaire family behind Oxycontin, alleging the drugmaker fueled the opioid crisis by putting hunger for profits over patient safety.
Jessica Hill | AP

An article in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association says life expectancy in the United States dropped for the third consecutive year in 2017, the last year for which the researchers have data.

The drop follows a steady increase over more than 50 years, from 69.9 years to 78.9 years.

“This is really shocking and bad news, because we thought we were just on this trajectory that life expectancy would always go up. Suddenly it's tipped.” Dr. Jon Hallberg, medical director of the University of Minnesota Physicians Mill City Clinic, told MPR News host Tom Crann. “Things started to plateau a little bit in 2010, but by 2014, that's when the dip started occurring.”

That dip is slight, at just a tenth of a year. But Hallberg said it’s statistically significant — and alarming, because it’s driven by an increase in preventable deaths among 25-to 65-year-olds in New England and the Ohio Valley.

“There are three main conditions, this triad, and sadly, they're referred to as ‘depths of despair,’” Hallberg said. “They are drug overdoses, suicides and alcohol-related disease.”

To hear more of Hallberg’s conversation with Crann, including how doctors are responding, click play on the audio player above.