Accidental deaths are up in the United States, and the leading cause may surprise many people: It’s drug overdoses, according to a new report.
Drug overdose deaths have doubled in the past 14 years and now more people die from accidental overdoses than in road accidents in most U.S. states, the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation find in their report issued Wednesday.
Injuries kill 193,000 Americans a year and they are the leading cause of death for people aged up to 44, the report finds.
Drug overdoses killed 44,000 people in 2013. “More than half of these deaths (51.8 percent) were related to prescription drugs, with more than 16,000 deaths related to prescription painkillers, and nearly 7,000 related to anxiety and sleep medications,” the report reads.
These drug overdose deaths put West Virginia at the top of the list for accidental deaths. It has the most injury deaths overall, at 97.9 per 100,000 people, and a drug overdose death rate of 33.5 per 100,000 people.
“Americans living in cities have lower injury death rates than those living in non-metropolitan areas."
New York has the lowest rate of injury deaths at 40 per 100,000 people, and North Dakota has the lowest rate of overdose deaths at just 2.6 per 100,000.
Suicides are the second-leading cause of injury death, with 41,000 a year.
Car accidents come next. “Motor vehicle deaths have decreased by 25 percent in the past decade, but more than 33,000 Americans still die each year from motor vehicle crashes,” the report finds.
Reports of traumatic brain injuries among children playing or taking part in sports have increased by 60 percent in the past decade, the report finds.
It may also surprise many to learn that it’s far more dangerous to live in the country than to live in a city. “Americans living in cities have lower injury death rates than those living in non-metropolitan areas (55.3 versus 76.4 per 100,000 people),” the report finds.
But the report says good policies have lowered rates of injury and accidental deaths, and could do more.
“This report illustrates how evidence-based strategies can actually help prevent and reduce motor vehicle crashes, head injuries, fires, falls, homicide, suicide, assaults, sexual violence, child abuse, drug misuse, overdoses and more,” said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health.
“It’s not rocket science, but it does require common sense and investment in good public health practice.”
For instance, the report finds that seat belts save around 12,000 lives a year; child safety seats, booster seats and seat belts save around 12,200 children’s lives a year; motorcycle helmets save 1,600 lives a year; and sobriety checkpoints have helped cut alcohol-related crashes and deaths by around 9 percent.
One obvious place to reduce deaths is by drug overdoses. More than 2 million Americans abuse prescription drugs, the report says,with heroin use on the upswing again.
The number of states encouraging use of the opiate-blocker naloxone has doubled, from 17 to 34, since 2013, the report notes. The so-called rescue drug can save lives if given to someone in the throes of an overdose.
But more could be done. “While every state except Missouri has some form of Prescription Drug Monitoring Program in place to help reduce doctor shopping and mis-prescribing, only half require mandatory use by healthcare providers in at least some circumstances,” the report notes.
And while road deaths are down, there’s still plenty of room to cut more.
Only 21 states require ignition interlocks for people convicted of drunk driving. And while most states now have graduated drivers licenses that restrict times when teens can drive, just 11 prevent teens from driving after 10 p.m. and only 35 states plus Washington, D.C. require booster seats up to age 8.
Fires kill 3,000 people a year, but the number of fires has fallen by 20 percent since 2002 thanks to smoke alarms and sprinkler systems, the report finds.
Yet 60 percent of states reported budget cuts to injury and violence prevention in 2013, the report finds.
“Injuries are persistent public health problems. New troubling trends, like the prescription drug overdose epidemic, increasing rates of fall-related deaths and traumatic brain injuries, are serious and require immediate response,” said Corrine Peek-Asa, a public health professor at the University of Iowa.