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Pennsylvania among states with most overdose deaths, CDC study finds

Drug deaths, including those in Pa., have contributed to recent national life expectancy declines.


In a decade that saw drug overdose deaths skyrocket across the nation, Pennsylvania was one of four states that experienced the worst mortality increases, according to a new federal study released Thursday.

Nationally, deaths by overdose increased by 72 percent, to 19.8 deaths per 100,000 people, from 2006 to 2016, according to the report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.

The report, which examines many aspects of the nation's health, contains other disheartening findings about American life and death. While  overall life expectancy during those 10 years increased from 77.8 years to 78.6, life expectancy at birth decreased for the first time since 1993 – by 0.2 years between 2014 and 2015, and by 0.1 more years between 2015 and 2016.

There were 63,632 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2016, more than 66 percent of which involved opioids.

In that year, Pennsylvania was one of the states with the highest overdose death rates. The commonwealth's rate was almost 38 deaths per 100,000 residents. The other states with the highest death tolls were West Virginia at 52 per 100,000 and Ohio at about 39 per 100,000.

Earlier this year, a city analysis of overdose deaths and where they occurred in Philadelphia over the last decade showed that while the Kensington area was the hardest hit in terms of drug mortality, few corners of the city were untouched by an opioid crisis that more often kills in private homes than in the open-air heroin encampments that have received so much attention.

During the 10-year period starting in 2006, drug overdose rates increased in 43 states and Washington, D.C.

In addition to drug overdose, the CDC study identified two other causes of death that contributed significantly to life expectancy declines.

Suicide increased 23 percent, from 11 to 13.5 deaths per 100,000 people in the decade studied. In recent years, colleges have increased counseling outreach efforts, including peer counseling at the University of Pennsylvania and other campuses around the country.

In addition, chronic liver disease, the third contributor to the life expectancy declines, also took a particular toll on younger people. Recent research has tied much of that rise to alcohol consumption.

According to the CDC's findings, the death rates for chronic liver disease and cirrhosis among men ages 25 to 34 increased by an average of nearly 8 percent per year during 2006 to 2016. Among women of the same age, the numbers were even more dire – the death-rate increase averaged about 11 percent per year.

The CDC report does have some bright spots, including among the nation's adolescents.

The rate of births to girls ages 15 to 19 dropped by half, to a record low – 20.3 live births per 1,000 females in 2016, down from 41 births per 1,000 in 2006.

And fewer high school students were smoking cigarettes. In the federal survey, the percentage of high school students who said they had smoked in the past 30 days dropped from 15.8 percent in 2011 to 8 percent in 2016.

But government researchers found high school students' use of e-cigarettes jumped from a mere 1.5 percent to 11.3 percent. E-cigarettes' sharp rise has sent many school districts, including local ones, scrambling to educate families and students. Meanwhile, federal authorities have launched a major media campaign to warn teens of the danger these products pose to their health.