In most developed nations, life expectancy has increased over the past few decades. This is not true in the United States. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Thursday, 2017 is officially the third year in a row in which life expectancy has decreased. Now, Americans, on average, live to the age of 78.6 years old — a decrease from 78.7 years in 2016.

Underlying that decrease in life expectancy is an increase in deaths: there were 69,255 more deaths in the US in 2017 than there were in 2016. While the ten leading causes of death in 2017 were the same as in 2016, the CDC states that this downward trend in American deaths is currently and largely driven by deaths from drug overdose and suicide.

“Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” announced CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield on Thursday.

CDC chart
Death rates by age group.

In particular, the synthetic opioid-related overdose death rate rose by an average of 45 percent in 2017. A record number of deaths — 47,600 — were caused by drugs like fentanyl, heroin, and prescription narcotics.

Deaths connected to legal painkillers remained roughly the same as in 2016, with 3,194 related to methadone and 14,495 deaths linked to a group of narcotics including oxycodone and hydrocodone.

The ten leading causes of death did not change from 2016 to 2017. Heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease, and suicide remain the top killers in America.

In cheerier news: The rate of cancer-caused deaths actually decreased by 2.1 percent.

The rate decreased by 2.1 percent for cancer. 

Things are getting worse for particular groups of Americans. While people between the ages of 45 and 54 are actually living longer (life expectancy increased by one percent) and there were 826 fewer infant deaths in 2017 than 2016, death rates increased for people aged 25 to 34 (2.9 percent), 35 to 44 (1.6 percent), and 85 and over (1.4 percent).

As before, life expectancy remains higher for American women than American men, though the gap has widened. The difference in life expectancy between women and men changed from 4.9 years in 2016 to 5 years in 2017.

In the list of long-living nations, the United States ranks relatively low. According the the CIA’s World Factbook, the countries with the longest life expectancy, in order of ascension, are Singapore, Japan, and Monaco. The United States ranks 43rd.