There is more bad news about the opioid crisis. Accidental death became the third leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2016, trailing only heart disease and cancer in the number of lives claimed. Accidental deaths as a whole increased by 10 percent over 2015’s numbers.
Accidental death is defined here as unintentional, preventable injuries such as motor vehicle crashes, choking, falls, drownings and poisoning — which includes accidental overdoses. Tragically, the reason for the growth in the accidental death category appears to be a stark increase in opioid overdoses.
As we’ve discussed before on this blog, opioids can be viewed as defective drugs, or at least defectively marketed. In the case of OxyContin, for example, Purdue Pharmaceutical marketed the drug aggressively, even for moderate and short-term pain, and claimed without scientific proof that it was less likely to lead to addiction than other painkillers.
According to the nonprofit National Safety Council, which reported the change, the increase in accidental deaths was fueled in large part by opioid overdoses. Almost all the sectors of the accidental death category increased, but overdoses increased at a higher rate than other accidental deaths.
To get a feel for these numbers, consider that 40,327 people died in motor vehicle accidents in 2016. Shockingly, nearly as many died from overdoses of opioid pain medication, heroin and illicitly-manufactured fentanyl: 37,814.
There were other increases within the accidental death category, but none drove the total 10-percent increase as much as the jump in opioid deaths.
•· Fatal motor vehicle crashes: Up 6.8 percent
•· Fatal falls: Up 3.9 percent
•· Drownings: Up 5.1 percent
•· Fire-related deaths: Up 3.2 percent
•· Choking deaths: Down 4.4 percent
•· Poisonings (including unintentional overdoses): Up 22.90 percent
This news comes shortly after a report in December that life expectancy in the U.S. is dropping. It fell in 2016 for the second year in a row, according to the mortality statistics branch of the National Center for Health Statistics. In 2014, U.S. average life expectancy was 78.9 years. In 2015, that fell to 78.7. In 2016, the average dropped again to 78.6. That drop in the average was caused by tens of thousands of people dying earlier than expected.
How many people have died prematurely? In 2016, some 58,335 people died of poisoning, the category that includes accidental overdoses, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Unintentional overdose deaths should be entirely preventable. In October, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, and it is. More may need to be done, however, including holding the manufacturers and marketers of these deadly, addictive drugs accountable for the harm they cause.