Life expectancy in the U.S. fell by more than seven months last year to its lowest level in more than two decades, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released Thursday.

The average life span of Americans in 2021 was 76 years and four months, the lowest since 1996. The average fell by one year and eight months in 2020.

"It's not a good year for the data, let's put it that way," CDC statistician Kenneth Kochanek told NPR.

COVID-19 contributed to the falling averages. The illness is still the third-leading cause of death in the US, with 416,893 people dying of coronavirus in 2021.

Heart disease is still the leading cause of death, accounting for 695,547 fatalities and cancer contributing to 605,213 in 2021.

The CDC also noted in a separate report Thursday that 106,699 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2021 and increase over the 92,000 overdose deaths in 2020. CDC blamed the opioid crisis for the steep hike and reported fentanyl was the cause of 22% of the overdose deaths.

The CDC said the new data shows that drug fatalities have increased fivefold in the previous two decades.

Deaths by suicide and liver disease or cirrhosis caused by alcohol also increased, contributing to the slipping life expectancy averages.

The average age of people who died last year explains how life expectancy at birth dropped from 77 years in 2020 to 76.4 years in 2021 because COVID-19 fatalities are primarily attributed to elderly adults. The US currently has the third highest COVID-19 mortality rate, so the average life expectancy is unlikely to close the gap.