A recent report on the leading causes of death in the United States suggests that while the number of car accidents deaths is decreasing, there are more people dying from prescription drug overdoses.Â
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report on the leading causes of death in the U.S. earlier this month, covering a period from 2005 through 2013.
Heart disease and cancer remain the leading causes of death in the United States, but the agency identified significant changes in the most common causes of accidental, non-intentional deaths.
Unintentional injury deaths overall have remained fairly stable, accounting for about 5% of all deaths every year, according to the report. However, the number of deaths is slowly increasing, with 8,629 more accidental deaths in 2011 than in 2005, creeping up about 0.6% per year.
Drug poisoning deaths and fall accidents, the latter among an aging population, appear to be largely driving the increases. Investigators found that there were 11,527 more drug-related deaths in 2011 than in 2005. Fatal falls increased by 7,099 during the same time period.
Drug Overdose Epidemic
In 2012, the CDC warned that prescription drug overdoses have reached epidemic levels, killing someone in the U.S. every 19 minutes.
According to this new report, there are now more deaths due to accidental overdoses and misuse of painkillers like OxyContin and morphine, than there are deaths linked to illegal drugs, such as cocaine and heroin.
Last year, the CDC reported that there appeared to be littleÂ let up in the number of deaths linked to overdoses, with more than 40,000 drug overdose deaths in 2011. The CDC estimates that 40% of those involved opioid analgesics or narcotic painkillers.
Experts have warned that it will take a society-wide effort to stem the growing drug overdose problem, which will have to include collaboration of federal state and local agencies, parents, health care professionals, youth influencers and policy makers.
Possible solutions proposed by the CDC include insurance restrictions that would prevent patients from â€śdoctor shoppingâ€ť for so-called â€śpill millsâ€ť that pass out painkiller prescriptions like candy, targeting those clinics and the doctors that run them through law enforcement efforts, and improving medical practices that lead to legitimate overprescribing of the powerful painkillers.
In 2011, Â the FDA initiated a painkiller abuse reduction plan, asking drug manufacturers to develop a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) for all long-action opioids that would help keep them out of the hands of abusers.
The FDA Opioid StrategyÂ requires educating doctors on proper pain management, patient selection and will educate patients on proper use, dangers and disposal of the drugs.
Car Accident Risks Decline
While drug overdose deaths have increased, driving on U.S. roads appears to be getting safer.
According to the report, there were 10,011 fewer motor-vehicle related deaths in 2011 than in 2005.
The CDC reports that multiple factors likely contributed to the decline, including improvements in vehicle safety technology. However, our habits are also changing, with more people wearing seatbelts and driving safer, and states instituting more laws promoting safe driving.
The CDC also noted that trauma care has also improved, meaning that victims of auto accidents today may be more likely to survive what would have been life-threatening injuries a few years before.
Overall, however, accidental deaths paled in comparison to the number of deaths linked to heart disease and cancer, which together account for nearly half of all deaths in the U.S. every year.