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For The First Time In US History This Is Now The Third-Leading Cause Of Death Among Americans


Madison Dapcevich


Madison Dapcevich

Freelance Writer and Fact-Checker

Madison is a freelance science reporter and full-time fact-checker based in the wild Rocky Mountains of western Montana.

Freelance Writer and Fact-Checker

It is estimated that between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioids worldwide. NASA.

For the first time, accidental deaths have become the third-leading cause of fatalities. A record 161,375 lives were accidentally lost in 2016.

Defined as unintentional or preventable, the number of accidental deaths rose significantly in 2016, a trend the National Safety Council says is fueled by the steep rise in opioid overdoses.


Unintentional opioid deaths caused by prescription pain relievers, heroin, and illicitly-made fentanyl reached a record 37,814 deaths. Of those, an estimated 22,000 people die annually from prescription-opioids alone. That’s one every 24 minutes.

According to the study, Ohio had the most opioid deaths (3,495), followed by New York (2,752), and Florida (2,622). Deaths hit a peak for those in their 30s and in their 50s.

But evaluating deaths caused by drug overdose can be tricky, says the Centers for Disease Control. In approximately 1 in 5 drug overdose deaths, no specific drug is listed on the death certificate.

It's a crisis drawing national attention


Last fall the Trump Administration declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. However, funding for new addiction treatment programs and research has not been allocated.

Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tightened restrictions on cough syrups, banning opioids in cough medicine for children under the age of 18. 

On Wednesday, Walmart announced it will become the first national drug chain to offer free disposal of unused opioid prescriptions. 

Despite recent efforts, opioid overdoses are a part of an ongoing, crippling epidemic.


In its 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment, the US Drug Enforcement Agency said the drug landscape in the US has shifted over the last decade and is “reaching epidemic levels”. 

Since 1999, the amount of prescription drugs prescribed and sold has quadrupled, says the Department of Health and Human Services. About 44 people die every day from a prescribed-opioid overdose. Of those, 18 women will die of a prescription drug overdose.

Overall, preventable deaths have been increasing since 2009 and are third only to heart disease and cancer, respectively. 

According to the 2016 analysis, almost 15,000 more people died accidentally in 2016 than in 2015. It's the largest single-year percent rise since 1936.


Nearly all categories of accidental death have increased. Poisoning deaths – which include drug overdose – account for 58,335 total deaths, an increase of 22.9 percent. Motor vehicle accidents rose 6.8 percent for a total of 40,327. Drowning (5.1 percent) and fire-related (3.2 percent) deaths also increased for total combined 6,516 deaths. Choking was the only accidental death to decrease by 4.4 percent to just under 5,000 deaths annually.

In a year-long project evaluating the actions and policies US states take to reduce accidental deaths for residents, no state received an A. As such, an American is accidentally injured every second and killed every three minutes by a preventable event.


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