If you don’t think the opioid crisis is an epidemic yet, you should take a look at these numbers.
The National Safety Council has released their 2017 data on accidental deaths in the United States, and the biggest, most shocking takeaway from the results is that a person’s more likely to die from an opioid overdose than from a traffic accident.
While the odds of dying in a car accident are 1 in 103, the odds of overdosing on an opioid is 1 in 96. It’s the first time in recorded history, and since the advent of motor vehicles, that opioids have passed traffic accidents.
The issue of opioid addiction has been increasing in recent years due to over-prescriptions, access, and lack of education. Though one of the biggest problems fueling the crisis has been the advent of illegal fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid originally used to treat the most severe pain, such as in cancer patients.
“The nation’s opioid crisis is fueling the Council’s grim probabilities, and that crisis is worsening with an influx of illicit fentanyl,” the council said in a statement.
Fentanyl is creeping into street drugs, including heroin, and makes overdosing all too easy.
Even scarier? The opioid death numbers are likely significantly higher. A study in the journal Addiction found that deaths by opioids are probably underreported by 34 percent, simply because many death certificates don’t specify the type of drug, or because there was another drug in a person’s system that was listed instead.
How do opioid overdoses compare to other leading causes of death? Heart disease is still the leader, with 1 in 6 people succumbing to the health issue. Cancer follows at 1 in 7. Chronic respiratory disease takes 1 in 27 people, and suicide takes 1 in 88.
On the other side of the coin, your odds of dying in an airplane are 1 in 188,364, your odds of being fatally struck by lightening are 218,106, and your odds of dying in a train accident are 1 in 243,765.
The National Safety Council stressed that many of the deaths they record are accidental and could be prevented easily; for example, half of the traffic accident deaths involved riders who weren’t wearing a seat belt. In addition, our opioid crisis could and should be improved with smart, fast action.
“Your odds of dying are 1 in 1,” Ken Kolosh, manager of statistics at the National Safety Council, told NPR. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t do something. If, as a society, we put the appropriate rules and regulations in place we can prevent all accidental deaths in the future.”
The NSC also had recommendations for curbing the drug epidemic. They include educating doctors and holding them accountable for over-prescription of painkillers, educating the public, and getting better access to treatment and recovery support for those with addictions already.