U.S. Life expectancy dropped for the third year in a row. Here's what to know

While the conclusion of the reports is bleak, the reason why the lives of Americans are getting shorter is even grimmer.

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According to a report released by the , the decline in life expectancy came largely due to drug overdoses and suicides.

Drug overdose deaths by the numbers:

The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics reported that overdose deaths topped 70,000 in 2017. The number of drug overdose deaths has more than quadrupled since 1999, The Washington Post reported, while deaths specifically attributed to opioids were nearly six times greater in 2017 than they were in 1999.

It’s important to note that deaths by legal prescription painkillers did not increase in 2017. This may be due, in part, to efforts by doctors and officials to curb the use of drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone. But according to experts, this simply means more people are turning to , a dangerous illegal drug they're getting from dealers off the street.

According to the data, fentanyl-related deaths increased from 19,413 deaths in 2016 to 28,466 in 2017.

What to know about America's rising suicide rate:

Beyond overdose deaths, the suicide rate in America increased by 3.7 percent. Among men, the rate increased by 26 percent between 1999 and 2017. Now, nearly 22 per 100,000 deaths for men can be attributed to suicide.

"Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation's overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable," Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC director, shared in a statement with .

Though the government reports did not assess why more people are dying by suicide, Dr. William Dietz, a disease prevention expert at George Washington University, speculated to USA Today that financial struggles and America’s continued divisiveness may be causing the upward trend.

“I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless, and that leads to drug use, it leads potentially to suicide,” Dietz said.

This sentiment cannot be more true for those living in rural areas of the nation. According to the reports, the suicide rate in rural counties is nearly double the rate in urban counties. As to why that may be, Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, shared this theory with The Washington Post:

“Higher suicide rates in rural areas are due to nearly 60 percent of rural homes having a gun versus less than half of homes in urban areas,” Humphreys said. “Having easily available lethal means is a big risk factor for suicide.”

What is the new U.S. life expectancy?

Because of the sharp increase in overdose deaths and deaths by suicide, Americans now have a life expectancy of 78.6 years, down from 78.7 years in 2016. This trend marks the longest overall downward life expectancy trend since World War I, USA Today explained.

Like many health crises, experts believe this one can be managed-and we can start by  practices and improved access to care for drug users. Joshua M. Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The Washington Post these things may take some time.

“...The frustration that many of us feel is that there are things that could save many lives,” he said, “and we are failing to make those services available.”

For general information on mental health and to locate treatment services in your area, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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