Americans are more likely to die of opiate overdose than on the road: NPR


Used syringes are discarded at a needle exchange clinic in Vermont in 2014. The chances of Americans dying of an overdose of opiates have increased in recent years.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

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Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Used syringes are discarded at a needle exchange clinic in Vermont in 2014. The chances of Americans dying of an overdose of opiates have increased in recent years.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

For the first time in US history, one of the leading causes of fatalities, vehicle crashes, was outstripped in probability by overdose of opiates, according to a new report on avoidable deaths by the National Security Council.

Americans now have a 1 in 96 chance of dying from an overdose of opiates, according to the council's analysis of the 2017 data on accidental death. The probability of dying in a car accident is 1 in 103.

"The country's opioid crisis is fueling the Council's shadow probabilities, and this crisis is worsening with the influx of illicit fentanyl," the council said in a statement released Monday.

Fentanyl is currently the drug most responsible for drug overdose deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in December. And that may just be a partial view of the problem: opiate-related overdoses have also been sub-counted by up to 35%, according to a study published last year in the journal. Addiction.

The council recommended combating the epidemic by increasing training in pain management for opioid prescribers, making the drug potentially more life-saving naloxone more widely available and expanding access to addiction treatment.

While the leading causes of death in the United States are heart disease (1 in 6) and cancer (1 in 7), an increase in the number of overdoses is part of the harrowing trend that the non-profit organization has recorded: avoidable and unintentional injury has increased over the past 15 years.

"This is impacting our workforce, impacting our fathers and mothers who still raise their children," said Ken Kolosh, statistics manager for the National Security Council. Kolosh said these accidental deaths often affect people in the "core of their lives," with greater financial and emotional ramifications than the deaths of those in their later years.

Collisions of vehicles continue to be an important danger as well. Kolosh said that half of the people who died in the accidents they analyzed were not wearing seat belts. Meanwhile, the frequency of pedestrian deaths has increased, led by a jump in deaths in urban areas.

Pedestrian deaths occurred in a record 25 years, according to the Governors Road Safety Association. A 2017 study found that an average of 13 people per day were killed by cars between 2005 and 2014, and that people of color and senior citizens are disproportionately at risk.

"Historically, the roads were designed to make it as efficient as possible for the vehicle," said Kolosh, noting that cyclists and pedestrians have been deceived. "Now we have to do a much better job of building our infrastructure to accommodate all road users."

Kolosh said he hoped the council's analysis would calm down the unfounded fears and remind people of the most common dangers.

"As human beings, we are terrible at assessing our own risk," Kolosh said. "We usually focus on unusual or scary events … and we assume these are the most risky."

He said the data show that the opposite is true.

For example, the probability of an American dying in a "cataclysmic storm" is only 1 in 31,394.

Dying like a plane passenger? 1 in 188,364.

In a train accident? 1 at 243,765.

Which gives? 1 in 114.

Kolosh said the likelihood of dying in a fall has increased (it was 1 in 119 last year), driven by more recorded falls among older adults as the US population ages. Experts say that the best way to avoid this risk is exercise. It is a reminder, Kolosh said, that each of 169,936 preventable deaths recorded in 2017 was preventable.

"Your chances of dying are one-on-one," Kolosh joked. "But that does not mean we can not do something. If, as a society, we put proper rules and regulations in place, we can avoid all accidental deaths in the future."


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