You are more likely to die of an opioid overdose than in a car crash in the US for the first time in history, a new report reveals.
Amid the unrelenting opioid crisis, the National Safety Council found that the odds of dying of an overdose are one in 96, compared to one in 103 for a car crash, according to its analysis of 2017 death records.
This is the first time that drugs have surpassed cars as a likely killer of more Americans – though the odds of dying by suicide remain higher than either.
Heart disease remains the most likely killer – the odds are one in six that it will kill any given American – but the report underscores the ways that the opioid epidemic is directly impacting the way so many Americans live and die.
An American is now more likely to die of an opioid overdose than to be killed in a car crash, according to a new report from the National Safety Council
It’s no secret that addictive opioids have had and are still having a devastating impact on the US.
For the last several years, hardly a week has gone by without a opioids making headlines.
Yet, ubiquitous as new facts and statistics on the crisis have become, the issue can feel like just that – distant numbers and figures, detached from the very real people whose lives and deaths they quantify.
And as those numbers the impact of the opioid crisis creeps more closely into more and more lives.
Last year, the American Psychiatry Association found that about one in three people know someone who is addicted to opioids.
And now, the drugs are the cause of a horrifying outsize number of deaths in the US.
For each American, the odds that they will die by opioids rather than any other possible cause are now better than one in 100.
To put that into context:
The odds of getting a flush – just a regular flush, not a straight or royal flush – in a game of five-card poker are one to 508.
That means that you are five times more likely to die of an opioid overdose than you are to get a flush in a card game.
If you’re not a poker player, you can broaden that figure to your circle of friends.
A September survey found that the average person has 338 Facebook friends (though some estimates put the number closer to 155, and, granted, we only trust an average of four of them, according to those statistics).
So statistically speaking, more than three of your Facebook friends are slated to die of opioid overdoses.
The National Safety Council’s list of the top 25 most likely causes of death shows that opioids are near the top of the list, surpassing both car crashes and gun deaths
The only causes of death more likely to befall you, according to the new report, are heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease and suicide.
As the National Safety Council points out, death is a frightful thought for us all, but understanding the threats can give us perspective on where to put our energies – both as individuals and as a society.
‘We tend to focus on the catastrophic – plane crashes lightning strikes – and we want to help demonstrate that the odds of every day, almost mundane risks are far greater in the aggregate than the odds of dying in a catastrophe or newsworthy event,’ says Ken Kolosh, who manages the statistical arm of the National Safety Council.
He says that the nearly vertical year-over-year rise in opioid overdose deaths is significant in part because it these overdoses are such a hyper-specific single cause of death, and yet they have ‘overtaken the totality of motor vehicle deaths.’
And the over 400 percent increase in these deaths in the last 30 years is practically unprecedented – except, perhaps, for cars.
‘It’s really hard to find a comparable issue, but if you look back at the advent of motor vehicles, and you see that upward trend [in deaths], but it took decades to build and this’ – the opioid epidmeic – ‘is almost building overnight,’ says Kolosh.
About 75 percent of opioid users say that their addiction began with a prescription drug, as much as 29 percent wind up misusing them, and up to 12 percent develop a misuse disorder.
But there is a ‘blueprint’ for lowering the risks of death from an overdose: properly training prescribers in pain management – particularly in alternatives to opioids – make access to addiction treatment broader and make sure that naloxone is widely distributed.
Already, there have been pushes to institute each of these three elements, made mostly at local levels rather than through the federal government, but these improvements are a source of hope to Kolosh and public health oficials.
‘There’s good news. Each and every one of these deaths are preventable,’ unlike top killers like heart disease and cancer, says Kolosh.
‘People assume a death is an act of god, an unavoidable thing, but in fact we have pretty good strategies for every one of these to prevent these causes of death or at least decrease them dramatically.
‘If we put these three things in place, it would go a long way to turning this incredible trend back.’