by Dr. Lynn Webster Published by The Hill

For more than a century, life expectancy steadily increased in the United States. We gained nearly a full decade of life from 1955, when the life expectancy was 69.6 years, to 2014, when it grew to 78.9 years.

Sadly, that trend seems to have reversed itself.

Our children may not live as long as we do.

In fact, their lives may end prematurely, and by their own choice.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdoses have had the greatest impact on the changes in life expectancy, particularly for middle-aged white non-Hispanic men and women.

But drug overdoses, mostly involving opioids, may be only a symptom of a more deeply seated social disease.

To understand the pathogenesis of this disease, we need to ask two related questions. First, re drug overdoses actually the main cause of the lower life expectancy? Second, what is driving the demand for drugs of potential abuse that contribute to overdoses?

Last year, Princeton professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton published their findings that cumulative health and personal problems often lead to addictions, overdoses, and suicides that they call “deaths of despair.”

While the opioid crisis seems to be an obvious scapegoat, it may not be the major cause of a lower life expectancy. The hidden story is that increased suicides may be as much of a factor as opioids, and that the social factors that lead to suicides and drug overdoses are the real culprits.

Here is why that is probable.

U.S. suicide rates have reached a 30-year high. In fact, the CDC reports more deaths in 2016 from suicides (44,965) than opioids (42,249).

Additionally, overdose deaths and suicides are linked in that an unknown number of the deaths determined to be opioid overdoses may actually be unreported suicides.