The opioid crisis in the United States has become so grim that Americans are now likelier to die of an overdose than in a vehicle crash.
That’s according to a new report by the National Safety Council that analyzed the causes of preventable deaths in the country in 2017. The probability of dying from an opioid overdose, according to the report, is one in 96. The chances of dying in a vehicle crash? One in 103.
Most Americans are still most likely to die of natural causes, chiefly heart disease (a one in six chance) or cancer (one in seven). But the report shows, in stark numbers, that everyday events — such as falling down — might be effectively more dangerous than rare ones, such as getting hit by lightning.
“Human beings, we just are not good at estimating our own risk,” said Ken Kolosh, manager of statistics at the National Safety Council, who oversaw the report. “We tend to fixate or focus on the rare, startling event, like a plane crash or a major flood or a natural disaster, but in reality, when you look at the numbers, the everyday risks that we face and have become so accustomed to form a much greater hazard.”
Medicine has improved our ability to combat fatal illnesses. But while deaths from natural causes have gone down, deaths from preventable causes have ticked up, and the result is that Americans’ life expectancy has actually decreased over the past few years, Mr. Kolosh said.
Here’s a look at the trends, and the top 10 causes of preventable deaths.
Opioids: One in 96
An influx of illegal fentanyl has worsened the opioid crisis.
The total number of deaths from opioid overdoses first surpassed the total number of deaths from vehicle crashes years ago. But the report found that 2017 was the first year in which accidental opioid deaths exceeded the number of accidental vehicle crashes. (Intentional overdoses or vehicle crashes were counted as suicides.)
“Something that was a nonissue 30 years ago now looms as this incredible monster of an issue,” Mr. Kolosh said.
Overdoses of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, have been driving the increase, according to data on opioid deaths from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pedestrian deaths: One in 556
They are becoming more frequent.
Car crashes continue to be a leading cause of preventable death, with pedestrians accounting for a bigger proportion of the fatalities, especially in urban areas. While Mr. Kolosh said the reasons behind the increase have not been thoroughly studied, distracted driving is widely considered to be a factor.
When it comes to deadly car crashes, the report made a notable finding: About half of the people who died in the crashes studied were not wearing seatbelts.
Falls: One in 114
Falling can be risky, especially if you’re older.
The probability of dying in a fall increased to one in 114. Mr. Kolosh attributed the uptick to the fact that more older adults are reporting falls. Some of them at first might not seem particularly serious.
“They’re slipping or tripping in their bathrooms, or in their kitchens,” Mr. Kolosh said. But researchers are finding that even some of these minor falls may lead to hospitalization and a chain of events that may then result in death.
Among the ways to prevent falls, according to the CDC: Exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility and balance.