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U.S. life expectancy rebounded in 2022 but COVID and drug overdoses were still deadly

People in the U.S. were living longer in 2022 according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Nam Y. Huh
/
AP
People in the U.S. were living longer in 2022 according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Life expectancy in the U.S. bounced back in 2022 as the COVID-19 pandemic faded, rising from 76.4 years in 2021 to 77.5 years on average.

That's according to two new studies released early Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The number of deaths for which COVID-19 was the underlying cause of death decreased 55.3% [in 2022]," according to one of the CDCreports.

Despite the improvement, U.S. life expectancy remainsbelow its peak of 78.9 years reached in 2014. It also lags behind other comparable countries. Final data compiled by CDC shows two public health crises, the COVID pandemic and overdoses caused by illicit street drugs, are still exacting a deadly toll.

COVID deathstook roughly 186,552 lives in the U.S. in 2022.

Driven by fentanyl, meanwhile, fatal overdoses continued to rise over that same period, from 106,699 to 107,941 deaths.

"Overall, the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths nearly quadrupled from 8.2 in 2002 to 32.6 in 2022," CDC researchers concluded.

The leading causes of death in the U.S. are heart disease and cancer.

COVID was the third-leading cause of death, but in 2022 dropped behind "unintentional injuries," the category that includes drug overdoses.

Researchers say more recent provisional data shows that trend continuing, with pandemic-related deaths declining while drug overdoses rose in 2023 to top 110,000 fatalities.

Final CDC data for 2022 also showed a troubling increase in infant mortality in the U.S., rising 3.1 percent.

"In 2022, 20,553 deaths occurred in children younger than age 1 year, which was 633 more infant deaths than in 2021," researchers found.

They pointed to "significant" increases in bacterial infections in newborns and maternal complications as causes.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.
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