Life expectancy in Wisconsin has dropped for two years in a row fueled by increased deaths from alcohol abuse and opioids, a report released Monday from the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum found.
The group found that increased mortality among black people was also pushing Wisconsin's rate down. The state's overall rate mirrors a slight downward trend nationally.
Those increased deaths "overshadow other trends, enabled by medical progress in treatment of heart disease, stroke and other areas, that otherwise would be lengthening life expectancy," the report said.
The national decrease in life expectancy is the first since between 1915 and 1918, a period that included World War I and a global influenza epidemic. The current epidemic is drug and alcohol abuse, the report said.
Drug and alcohol deaths in Wisconsin have more than tripled since 1999, increasing from 593 that year to 1,985 in 2017. The state's drug death rate has more than quadrupled since 1999. Opioid deaths increased from 65 in 1999 to 901 in 2017.
Wisconsin's alcohol-related death rate rose more quickly than the national average from 1999 to 2017. In Wisconsin, the rate was 13.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2017 compared with 11 per 100,000 nationally. Wisconsin's alcohol-related death rate was more than double in 2017 what it was in 1999 — increasing from 356 deaths to 780. Wisconsin's alcohol death rate increased by 101.5% in that span, which is above the national rate increase of 57%.
Also, the death rate for black people in Wisconsin increased by 24% between 1999 and 2017. Nationwide it dropped nearly 6% over that time. Wisconsin's opioid death rate for black people in 2017 was nearly double the national average.
The problem was particularly acute in Milwaukee County, where the opioid death rate for all races was more than twice the statewide rate between 2013 and 2017.
The life expectancy for a baby born in Wisconsin from 2015 to 2017, the most recent data available, was 80 years. That is down from 80.1 between 2014 and 2016 and 80.2 between 2013 and 2015.
"Though slight, these consecutive decreases buck a longstanding trend and may reflect the deeper impact of several troubling issues facing the state," the Wisconsin Policy Forum said.
The good news for Wisconsin is that overall life expectancy appears to outpace the national average of 78.6 years, although direct comparisons aren't possible due to differences in methodology.