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1
  • Suicides and drug overdoses are two reasons for a continuing decrease in how long Americans are expected to live.
  • 2
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported recently that there were more than 2.8 million deaths in the United States in 2017.
  • 3
  • Of those, 47,000 were suicides and 70,000 were drug overdoses.
  • 4
  • If you want to understand why life expectancy is decreasing in America, the state of West Virginia may offer some answers.
  • 5
  • Maggie Hill has lived in West Virginia for all of her life.
  • 6
  • Hill, who is 67, told the Associated Press about the many deaths in her family.
  • 7
  • An older brother drowned in a flood. A sister died in a house fire.
  • 8
  • Two siblings, both who smoked, died of lung cancer.
  • 9
  • Two others died at birth.
  • 10
  • Her first husband died of heart failure.
  • 11
  • Then there were the suicides. Two of her three sons shot themselves to death.
  • 12
  • Her second husband killed himself one Sunday morning while she was still in bed.
  • 13
  • "I don't think people have a lot to live for," hill said. "I really and truly don't see things getting better."
  • 14
  • Dr. Michael Brumage is a public health expert at West Virginia University.
  • 15
  • He used to run the health department in Charleston, West Virginia.
  • 16
  • He said, "It seems that the worst outcomes happen here first."
  • 17
  • Among the 50 American states, West Virginia has the second- lowest life expectancy, behind only Mississippi.
  • 18
  • Hawaii has the highest life expectancy.
  • 19
  • The nationwide drug overdose death rate today is what West Virginia's was 10 years ago.
  • 20
  • In fact, West Virginia has had the nation's highest rate of drug overdose deaths for several years.
  • 21
  • The nation's suicide rate today is where West Virginia's was nearly 20 years ago.
  • 22
  • West Virginia also has more people affected by diabetes, heart disease and obesity than most other American states.
  • 23
  • Ten years ago, the AP described the West Virginia city of Huntington as the unhealthiest place in America.
  • 24
  • The finding was based on health information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • 25
  • The report led the city and the wider area to make changes to food served at schools.
  • 26
  • The area also made improvements to parks and sidewalks in an effort to fight obesity and related health problems.
  • 27
  • As the city was trying to deal with its citizens' weight problems, a new health crisis came to Huntington: opioid addiction.
  • 28
  • One summer day in 2016, emergency workers in Huntington treated 28 overdoses in six hours - including two deaths.
  • 29
  • The city later became known as America's overdose capital.
  • 30
  • There are several new projects around the state that aim to get children to exercise and eat healthier foods.
  • 31
  • Kayla Wright is director of an organization called Try This West Virginia.
  • 32
  • The organization is paying for many of the projects.
  • 33
  • She said, "We want to give people hope that we can be knocked off the unhealthiest list" of states.
  • 34
  • One program paid for high school students to build a running trail.
  • 35
  • Another helped people learn to grow a garden.
  • 36
  • In Williamson County, local leaders - led by a young doctor named C. Donovan Beckett - developed a series of programs aimed at creating a culture of health.
  • 37
  • They opened the Williamson Health and Wellness Center for free medical care.
  • 38
  • They set up a community garden, a vegetable delivery service and a running club.
  • 39
  • In the coming year, there will be a federally funded treatment program for people addicted to drugs.
  • 40
  • One of the most successful programs is one that sends health workers to the homes of people with diabetes.
  • 41
  • Jamie Muncy is one success story.
  • 42
  • The 48-year-old lost his job and his marriage was in ruins. Last fall, he finally stopped taking opioids.
  • 43
  • He began taking the drug after he hurt his foot.
  • 44
  • He told the AP, "I had no motivation" to be healthy. "I didn't care."
  • 45
  • His weight went from 75 kilograms to 89 kilograms.
  • 46
  • He had high blood sugar levels.
  • 47
  • A doctor from Williamson Center put him on a special diet, connected him with a physical therapist and put him in the home-visit diabetes program.
  • 48
  • Now Muncy walks 1.6 kilometer a day and buys vegetables at the farmers' market.
  • 49
  • The changes to his everyday life have helped him bring his weight down to 66 kilograms.
  • 50
  • As for Maggie Hill, the lifelong West Virginian, she adopted Charity, a young girl her son had been raising.
  • 51
  • He lost his right to raise Charity because of his continued struggle with drug addiction.
  • 52
  • Charity has given Hill's life a sense of purpose, she said.
  • 53
  • Charity, who is 10, is a good student and hopes to go to college.
  • 54
  • If Charity does go away to college one day, Hill says she will move there with her.
  • 55
  • I'm Ashley Thompson.
  • 56
  • And I'm Jonathan Evans.