2021 Was the Deadliest Year in U.S. History

2021 was America’s deadliest year, according to new research and data.

Why is there an increase in death rates? COVID-19, said Robert Anderson, who oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s work on death statistics.

Inaudibly, this month the agency updated its provisional deaths tally. It showed there were 3.465 million deaths last year, or about 80,000 more than 2020’s record-setting total.

Early last year, some experts were optimistic that 2021 would not be as bad as the first year of the pandemic — partly because effective COVID-19 vaccines had finally become available.

“We were wrong, unfortunately,” said Noreen Goldman, a Princeton University researcher.

COVID-19 deaths rose in 2021 — to more than 415,000, up from 351,000 the year before — as new coronavirus variants emerged and an unexpectedly large numbers of Americans refused to get vaccinated or were hesitant to wear masks, experts said.

Coronavirus may not be the only culprit. Preliminary data from the CDC shows that cancer’s crude death rate rose slightly. Stroke, diabetes and chronic liver disease rates continue to climb.

The number of drug overdoses has also increased. Because it takes weeks of investigation and lab work to determine the exact number, the CDC doesn’t have a tally yet for overdose deaths in 2021. But provisional data through October suggests the nation is on track to see at least 105,000 overdose deaths in 2021 — up from 93,000 the year before.

The overdose death rate among adolescents aged between 14 and 18 years was particularly high, according to new research.

The Journal of the American Medical Association published a paper that showed the overdose deaths of adolescents remained relatively constant in the last decade. It reported that they averaged 500 per year for the most part. The 2020 numbers nearly doubled to 954, according to researchers. Last year, the number reached almost 1,150 by the end of the last year.

Joseph Friedman, a UCLA researcher who was the paper’s lead author, called the spike “unprecedented.”

The number of teen deaths from overdose was only about 1%. The relative rise in overdose deaths among adolescents was greater than that of the entire population. However, surveys indicate that drug use is declining among teenagers.

Experts believe that fentanyl was responsible for the sudden spike in heroin use. This is a deadly drug which has been used to make heroin over many years. More recently it’s also been pressed into counterfeit pills resembling prescription drugs that teens sometimes abuse.

With the U.S. increasing in population, the number of deaths per capita often rises year over year. However, 2020 and 2021 witnessed extraordinary rises in the death rates and numbers due to the pandemic.

Those national death trends affect life expectancy — an estimate of the average number of years a baby born in a given year might expect to live.

The U.S. has seen a steady increase in life expectancy every year, with very few exceptions. But the CDC’s life expectancy estimate for 2020 was about 77 years — more than a year and a half lower than what it was in 2019.

The CDC is yet to report its 2021 calculation. However, Goldman and other researchers are making their estimates in papers which haven’t yet been published by peer-reviewed journals.

Those researchers think U.S. life expectancy dropped another five or six months in 2021 — putting it back to where it was 20 years ago.

A loss of more than two years of life expectancy over the last two years “is mammoth,” Goldman said.

A study compared death rates in the United States and those of 19 high-income nations. The U.S. was the worst.

“What happened in the U.S. is less about the variants than the levels of resistance to vaccination and the public’s rejection of practices, such as masking and mandates, to reduce viral transmission,” one of the study’s authors, Dr. Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a statement.

Many experts doubt that life expectancy can quickly rebound. These experts worry about COVID-19’s long-term effects that could lead to the death of those with chronic illnesses.

Preliminary — and incomplete — CDC data suggest there were at least 805,000 U.S. deaths in about the first three months of this year. That’s well below the same period last year, but higher than the comparable period in 2020.

“We may end up with a ‘new normal’ that’s a little higher than it was before,” Anderson said.

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