Drug Deaths Now More Likely Than Most Preventable Causes of Death

Hand holding syringe picture on the crowd background.

“For the first time in the nation’s history, Americans are more likely to die from an opioid overdose than a car accident.” That was the headlines from a January 14th, 2019 article in U.S. News. I knew the drug problem was terrible, but I was surprised that it had gotten that bad.

This new information gave me an idea though. My thought was, “How can we press the point home of just how dangerous and harmful the current drug problem is?” What better way to get the idea across that our nation is stifled in a quagmire of fatal addiction statistics than to show how addiction has long since surpassed all of the other causes of death that we have come to recognize as normal? So let’s take a look at our country’s current drug-related death rate, and let’s compare that to other causes of death.

Drug Overdoses and Car Accidents

The U.S. News article explored research compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics and published by the National Safety Council report. They called it, “Mortality Data for 2017.” According to the article, “[The Mortality Data report] determined the odds of dying from an accidental opioid overdose for a person born in 2017 were 1 in 96, while the chances of that same person dying from a motor vehicle crash were 1 in 103.”

So although deaths from overdoses are not the number one cause of death in the U.S., the concerning factor in the above data is that the likelihood that one might die from a drug overdose is increasing. That is what is so worrying. If these statistics have already risen so much in a relatively short span of time, how much further could they go if we don’t improve our efforts to address the problem?

Drug Overdoses and Gun Deaths

Infographic—Drug Overdoses Kill More Than Cars, Guns and Failing.

As far back as 2014, the National Institute on Drug Abuse was keeping tabs on the increase in drug overdose deaths and how that increase compared to other causes of lost life. According to their 2014 research, guns were attributed to 32,351 deaths. In that same year, falls killed 28,360 people, and traffic accidents caused 33,692 deaths. But even as recently as 2014, drug overdoses had already far outmatched these frequent causes of death. In 2014, 41,340 people died from drug overdoses. The problem has only gotten worse since then.

Drug Overdoses and Falls

We touched on drug overdoses and deaths by falls, so let’s explore that one further. Falls are one of the most feared ways to go, especially among the elderly. Falls are one of the leading causes of death for our elders. They can happen at any time and under almost any circumstance with virtually no warning whatsoever.

According to the National Safety Council, 34,673 people died from falls in 2016. But in that same year, about 64,000 people died from drug overdoses.

Let’s rewind the clock. In 2000, only 10,273 people died from falls. So the death toll from falls increased by 300% in 16 years. But also in 2000, only about 17,000 people died from drug overdoses. That’s an increase of almost 400% in 16 years. Both problems are growing, but the drug problem is growing more rapidly and taking far more lives.

Deaths from Drug Overdoses Two Decades Ago

Before we close out this discussion, I want to take a moment to show you that drug overdoses have not always been this bad. Twenty years ago, drug overdose deaths were an uncommon and tragic occurrence. Today they are still tragic, but with 130 people dying from just opioid drug overdoses in the U.S. every day, this is no longer a “rare” problem. Every 11 minutes, a life is snuffed out due to an opioid drug overdose.

At the turn of the century, in the year 1999,16,849 people died from drug overdoses. In 2017, the most recent year for which we have recorded information, more than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses. That figure is four times greater than the figure from 1999. This information was filed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and then published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This is an extremely lethal problem we are dealing with.

“On average, 130 Americans die every day
from an opioid overdose.”

And twenty years ago does not seem that long ago. It’s hard to believe that so many people have died from drug overdoses since then. But according to the CDC, “Drug overdose deaths continue to increase in the United States. From 1999 to 2017, more than 700,000 people have died from a drug overdose. Around 68% of the more than 70,200 drug overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid. … On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.”

Ouch. This data does not pull any punches.

What Can We Learn from This?

We as a nation have to work together to overcome the drug crisis. The drug crisis is a harsh issue. A lot of people are dying. We need to treat it like the epidemic that it is, and we have to work towards addressing it. Only with combined and resolute efforts will we overcome something this harmful.

This article may have been a depressing text to read. But the drug problem is quite sad, as so many people are dying from overdoses. Furthermore, the increase in death is far outstripping the other causes of accidental or injury-based death. And that’s something to be upset about.

We need to focus on solutions. We have to make addiction treatment more accessible to those who need it. Narcan, the overdose reversal medicine, works wonders for saving someone from the brink of death during an overdose. But, Narcan is an emergency, stopgap solution, if we don’t follow that up immediately with addiction treatment at a qualified rehab center, the individual whose life we just saved will likely go back to drug use.

We also have to help people who can’t seem to find help. We need to show our fellow men and women that addiction is not a death sentence. We need to focus on addiction treatment instead of stereotyping and incarceration. It’s a long road ahead, but we need to walk it. The fate of our nation’s health depends on it.






Reviewed and edited by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP.



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.