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U.S. Lags in Life Expectancy

Japanese, Europeans live years longer, on average

Casket in funeral service with yellow roses on top.

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Life expectancy in the United States is falling significantly behind other developed nations as a rise in deaths due to drugs, alcoholism and suicide is offsetting the longer life spans of healthy seniors, according to two studies published this summer in the medical journal BMJ.

The U.S. ranked last in life expectancy among developed nations through 2015 and is the only one of 18 countries with an average life span less than 80 years. Japan ranked first with a life expectancy of 84 years. Several European nations, along with Canada and Australia, topped the American life expectancy of 78.9 years.

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A related study found that a rapid rise in drug-related early deaths was part of the reason — but only part. “There are increasing death rates from stress-related conditions,” said lead author Steven H. Woolf, M.D., of Virginia Commonwealth University. “For example, we’re seeing an increase in death rates from alcohol-related illnesses, increases in the suicide rate. We’re seeing a pervasive trend where mortality rates are climbing for Americans.”

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Seniors are more likely to be prescribed opioids than any other population, with opioid overdoses on the rise.