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Americans Now More Likely to Die From Opioids Than Car Crashes

According to the National Safety Council, preventable injury deaths have increased by 96 percent since 1992

Small vials of fentanyl are shown in the inpatient pharmacy at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. Amid the nation's opioid epidemic, hospitals are struggling to get widely used injected pain medicines because of ongoing supply shortages. The shortages affect just about every corner of the hospital, from the operating room and emergency departmentHospital Painkiller Shortage, Salt Lake City, USA - 01 Jun 2018

Opioids have become a leading cause of death in America.

Rick Bowmer/AP/REX/Shutterstock

For the first time since the National Safety Council started tracking preventable injury and fatality statistics in 1913, Americans are more likely to die from an opioid overdose than in a car accident.

The NSC calculates the “Odds of Dying” based on statistical averages, dividing the one-year odds by the life expectancy of a person born in the year of their current analysis — in this case 2017. Heart disease, cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease held the three top spots (with one in six, one in seven, and one in 27 odds respectively) followed by suicide with one in 88. Opioid overdose was the fifth most likely, and the most likely in the category the NSC calls “preventable injury deaths,” with one in 96 odds. Motor vehicle crash deaths followed in sixth at odds of one in 103. Also notable, gun assault was the eighth most likely cause of death, with one in 285 odds.

“For many Americans, opioid misuse still feels like an abstract issue,” Maureen Vogel, spokeswoman for the National Safety Council told Rolling Stone in an email. “They don’t really believe it will touch them or their family. These data show that’s likely not the case.”

In 2018, unintentional injury, which includes overdoses and car accidents, was found to be the leading cause of death in the U.S. for people between the ages of one and 44, nearly twice as high as cancer and heart disease combined — based on data from 2016.

Overall, there were 169,936 preventable injury deaths in 2017, a 5.3-percent increase from the previous year, and a 96-percent increase since 1992.

The increase in overdose deaths is significant enough that it lowered the overall life expectancy for Americans, along with an increase in suicides, for the third year in a row, according to the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics analysis of 2017 deaths.

All of this points to just how far-reaching and critical the opioid crisis is in this country, with deaths continuing to rise, becoming one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., and now statistically likely to kill 1 in 96 Americans. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl have often been called out as a major factor in this escalating crisis, officially surpassing heroin as the drug most commonly associated with opioid overdose deaths, according to the CDC.

The NSC publishes these statistics in the hopes of helping Americans know what to avoid, writing, “Knowing the odds is the first step in beating them.” Let’s hope that proves true about overdose deaths.

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