A study by researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine finds multiple causes have contributed to growing mortality rates among younger people in the U.S., including suicide, substance abuse and distracted driving.

The study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that after U.S. life expectancy had increased from 69 to 78 between 1959 and 2016, it has declined for adults aged 25 to 64 because of an increase in “cause-specific” deaths since the 1990s.

The study found “midlife all-cause mortality” increased between 2010 and 2017 from 328.5 deaths per 100,000 population to 348.2. The specific age group that saw the biggest mortality jump was among people 25 to 34, which rose 29 percent in the same time frame. Causes of death included suicide, substance abuse and overdosing, injuries and various organ diseases.

The findings were based on a broader spectrum compared to earlier studies that examined mortality rates by gender, economic standing or heritage. Areas in the U.S. where it has been the worst include New England and the Ohio Valley.

“It’s supposed to be going down, as it is in other countries,” wrote Steven H. Woolf, lead author and director of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. “The fact that that number is climbing -- there’s something terribly wrong.”

Woolf said a major contributor has been the growth of drug abuse and access to drugs since the 1960s. It began with exposure to heroin and crack cocaine, which then “disproportionately” affected and criminalized African Americans. Abuse has only been exacerbated by the opioid crisis and abuse of prescription meds.

However, Woolf emphasized drug abuse is only part of the larger mortality rate.

“Some of it may be due to obesity, some of it may be due to drug addiction, some of it may be due to distracted driving from cellphones,” Woolf said.

“This isn’t a one-time phenomenon,” University of Illinois at Chicago public health Professor S. Jay Olshansky told the Washington Post. “It’s going to echo through time.”

Several of those who left the campus have been taken to hospital Several of those who left the campus have been taken to hospital Photo: AFP / NICOLAS ASFOURI