Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Progress in treating heart disease, cancer and stroke were helping to drive the improvement in Americans' life expectancy before the opioid crisis sent it tumbling, according to a new study in Health Affairs.

By the numbers: From 1990 to 2015, Americans' average life expectancy rose by 3.3 years. The study attributes 1.76 years of that improvement to reduced mortality from heart disease, 0.34 years from lung cancer and 0.33 years to improved care for stroke.

Between the lines: This is what's supposed to happen — advancements in care and better public-health awareness are supposed to help life expectancy tick up every year.

  • In the years just after this study cuts off, though — beginning in 2015 — American life expectancy declined for four years in a row, for the first time in decades, because of the opioid epidemic.
  • It began to rebound again in 2018, according to CDC data.

Go deeper

Updated Sep 15, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: The state of medicine and chronic pain

On Tuesday, September 15, Axios co-founder Mike Allen and health care reporter Caitlin Owens hosted a conversation on the state of medicine and chronic pain, exploring how policymakers and professionals are approaching responsible long-term pain management, featuring Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), Arthritis Foundation President & CEO Ann Palmer and Director of the Office of Pain Policy at the National Institutes of Health Dr. Linda Porter.

Rep. Burgess discussed the difference between Congress addressing the opioid crisis in 2017 and its failure to reach an agreement on the COVID stimulus.

  • On the opioid crisis response in 2017: "[That was] the way Congress is supposed to work. This was the legislative process being built from the ground up rather than top down."
  • How COVID-19 has exacerbating existing problems around resources in health care: "The downstream effects [are] disrupted cash flow for hospitals, medical practices, clinics. All of that has sort of compounded the chronic problems of lack of adequate resources."

Dr. Porter highlighted the effect of the pandemic on patients who experience chronic pain and discussed the recent spike in opioid overdoses:

  • On chronic pain during the pandemic: "If [patients] stop or slow treatments, their pain can get worse. Pain can be exacerbated by depression, which I think, given the isolation has been a big factor for people during COVID."
  • On patients struggling with opioid use disorders: "The rate of [opioid] overdose has vastly increased since COVID started...It's harder for [patients] because there may be a loss of jobs, a loss of income. And so all these things begin to contribute even more so to their opioid use disorder."

Ann Palmer unpacked the many ways that chronic pain impacts everyday life for patients.

  • "Pain prevents people from participating in life, may lead to a more sedentary lifestyle and the comorbidities associated with that, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure. It certainly leads to sleeplessness, and thus fatigue.

This event was a part two of a two-part series. You can watch part one here.

Thank you Pfizer & Lilly for sponsoring this event.

Cancer death rates drop but Black Americans still face highest risk

Adapted from the National Cancer Institute; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios 

There's some good news in 2020: Cancer death rates have been falling overall, and the gap between racial and ethnic groups has been narrowing.

Yes, but: Decades of systemic racism and the structures developed under it continue to limit the ability of Americans to benefit equally from cancer advances, some medical experts tell Axios, as seen by Black Americans who've had the highest death rate from cancer for 40 years. And the pandemic is expected to exacerbate the problem further.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. EST: 32,135,220 — Total deaths: 981,660 — Total recoveries: 22,149,441Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m EST: 6,975,980 — Total deaths: 202,738 — Total recoveries: 2,710,183 — Total tests: 98,481,026Map.
  3. Politics: House Democrats prepare new $2.4 trillion coronavirus relief package.
  4. Health: Cases are surging again in 22 states — New York will conduct its own review of coronavirus vaccine.
  5. Business: America is closing out its strongest quarter of economic growth.
  6. Technology: 2020 tech solutions may be sapping our resolve to beat the pandemic.
  7. Sports: Pac-12 will play this fall despite ongoing pandemic — Here's what college basketball will look like this season.
  8. Science: Global coronavirus vaccine initiative launches without U.S. or China — During COVID-19 shutdown, a common sparrow changed its song.

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