Drug Overdose Now Leading Cause of Injury-Related Deaths

Megan Brooks

June 17, 2015

Drug overdose deaths continue to increase in the United States and are now the leading cause of deaths from injury in the United States, a new report shows.

Every year, nearly 44,000 people die from drug overdoses. Deaths due to drug overdose have more than doubled in the past 14 years, and half of them are related to prescription drugs (22,000 per year), the report shows.

During the past 4 years, the number of overdose deaths rose significantly in 26 states and Washington, DC, and decreased in only six states. In 36 states and Washington, DC, overdose deaths now exceed motor vehicle–related deaths.

The findings from The Facts Hurt: A State-By-State Injury Prevention Policy Report were released today by the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report was developed in partnership with leading injury prevention experts from the Safe States Alliance and the Society for the Advancement of Violence and Injury Prevention (SAVIR).

Prescription drug abuse is a "national epidemic," Jeffrey Levi, PhD, TFAH executive director, said during a media briefing, but it affects some states much more than others. West Virginia has the highest number of drug overdose deaths (33.5 per 100,000), and North Dakota, the lowest (2.6 per 100,000).

"More than two million Americans misuse prescription drugs. The prescription drug epidemic is also contributing to an increase in heroin use," noted Corrine Peek-Asa, PhD, MPH, professor and associate dean for research, College of Public Health, University of Iowa, in Iowa City.

She noted that 34 states and Washington, DC, now have "rescue drug" laws in place to expand access to and use of naloxone (multiple brands) ― twice the number of states with these laws in 2013. Although every state except Missouri has some form of prescription drug monitoring program in place to help reduce doctor shopping and misprescribing, only 25 states require mandatory use by health providers in at least some circumstances.

Other key findings in the "Facts Hurt" report include the following:

  • During the past 4 years, injury death rates have increased significantly in 17 states, have remained stable in 24 states, and have decreased in nine states. The national rate is 58.4 per 100,000 people.

  • West Virginia has the highest number of injury-related deaths of any state (97.9 per 100,000), a rate more than twice that of the state with the lowest rate, New York (40.3 per 100,000).

  • Motor vehicle death rates have declined 25% in the past decade (to 33,000 per year); 21 states have drunk driving laws that require ignition interlocks for all offenders; most states have graduated drivers licenses that restrict times when teens can drive; 10 states restrict nighttime driving for teens starting at 10 pm; and 35 states and Washington, DC, require car safety or booster seats for children up to the age of 8 years.

  • Homicide rates have fallen 42% in the past 20 years (to 16,000 per year). For black male youth (aged 10 to 24 years), the rate of death by homicide is 10 times higher than it is for the overall population; 1 in 3 female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner; 31 states have homicide rates at or below the national goal of 5.5 per 100,000 people.

  • Suicide rates have remained stable but have been persistently high for the past 20 years (41,000 per year); more than 1 million adults attempt suicide, and 17% of teens seriously consider suicide each year; 70% of suicides deaths are among white males.

  • One in 3 Americans older than 64 years suffers a serious fall each year; falls are the most common nonfatal injuries, and the number of fall injuries and deaths are expected to increase as the baby boomer cohort ages; 13 states have unintentional fall-related death rates that are lower than the national goal of 7.2 per 100,000 people.

  • Traumatic brain injury from sports/recreation among children has risen by 60% in the past decade.

Predictable, Preventable

"One person dies from an injury every 3 minutes in the United States," Dr Levi said. "Injuries are the leading cause of death for all Americans between the ages of 1 and 44. They are responsible for nearly 193,000 deaths each year, and more than 27 million Americans seek medical treatment for injuries each year."

"Injuries are not just acts of fate. Research shows that they are pretty predictable, and they are actually very preventable," he noted. Preventing injuries "is not rocket science, but it requires common sense and an investment in good public health practice," he added.

"Injuries are persistent public health problems," added Dr Peek-Asa. "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. But we cannot afford to neglect or divert funds from ongoing concerns like motor vehicle crashes, drownings, assaults, and suicides. We spend less than the cost of a box of bandages, at just $.028 per person per year, on core injury prevention programs in this country."

The report also includes a report card of 10 key indicators of leading evidence-based strategies that help reduce injuries and violence. Twenty-nine states and Washington, DC, scored a 5 or lower out of the 10 key injury-prevention indicators. New York received the highest score of 9 out of 10; the four states that scored the lowest are Florida, Iowa, Missouri, and Montana, scoring 2 out of 10.

"This report provides state leaders and policy makers with the information needed to make evidence-based decisions to not only save lives but also save state and taxpayers' money," said Amber Williams, executive director of the Safe States Alliance.

"The average injury-related death in the US costs over $1 million in medical costs and lost wages. Preventing these injuries will allow for investments in other critical areas, including education and infrastructure," she said.

The complete report is available at www.healthyamericans.org.

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