Rick Bowmer / AP
For the second time in three years, life expectancy in the US has fallen. In three reports released on Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided a series of statistics that revealed some worrying trend lines – including fast-rising deaths from overdose and suicide.
CDC director Robert Redfield described the data as "worrying."
"Life expectancy gives us an overview of the nation's overall health status, and these sobering statistics are a wake up call that we too many Americans are too early and too often lose conditions that are avoidable, "he said. A statement was released Thursday.
Redfield combined the decline in overall life expectancy, which averaged 78.6 years in 2017, which represents a year-over-year decline of 0.1, with deaths from overdose and suicide.
More than 70,000 people According to CDC, they died of overdose last year alone. That number represents an increase of nearly 10 percent over 2016 and the highest ever in the United States for a year. By comparison, in 1999 only about 17,000 people died from overdoses, the earliest year for which the CDC submitted data on Thursday.
Recently, this increase has been partly caused by the opioid epidemic and a sharp increase in the number of deaths from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl – a staggering jump of 45 percent within a year between 2016 and 2017.
"It is noteworthy that in 2017, more people died of overdose than at the height of the HIV epidemic or the highest death toll from road deaths we've seen in this country, "says Kathryn McHugh of Harvard Medical School about Richard Harris of NPR.
At the same time, suicide rates have steadily increased, according to the CDC, the tenth leading cause of death in the US – and the second most common cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34. This age group matches the data on drug use, where people between 25 and 54 years of age died more frequently than older counterparts.  In other words, younger adults are the hardest hit by these trends.
"We do not see the decline in life expectancy because we meet people in their eighties [for lifespans of]." Life expectancy declines because people die in the 1920s [and] of the 1930s, "McHugh said.
The reports published by the CDC now not only contained bad news. The data also show a declining rate of people who have died from cancer by 2.1 percent from 2016 to 2017. But in general, says William Dietz of George Washington University, the main themes of the reports are "very worrying "- partly because deaths from overdose and suicide are likely. Both can be caused by social shifts in the US that have made people" less connected, "he says.
"There is some data to suggest that this has led to a sense of hopelessness, which in turn could lead to an increase in suicide rates and certainly to addictive behaviors."
McHugh also sees a connection between these two increasingly common causes of death.
"At times it was assumed that overdoses fit into one of two categories, they are intentional or unintentional," she says. She notes that many people have suicidal thoughts about being overdose, or that others are taking their own lives to avoid the addiction. "There is a tremendous amount of overlap between the two that is not talked about enough."
In the end, she makes a point similar to the CDC director: These are causes of death that should be preventable. And while efforts to combat the opioid epidemic "are starting to stem the tide," she says, "we have much more to do."
"It's not enough to just try to escalate this rate," McHugh adds. "We have to start seeing that this rate is decreasing."
CDC report on life expectancy
CDC report on drug overdose
CDC report on suicide