An article published by NPR in January of 2019 did a review of the current research on the most common causes of preventable death in the United States.

The research found that for the first time in U.S. history, a leading cause of deaths — vehicle crashes — has been surpassed in likelihood by opioid overdoses, according to a new report on preventable deaths from the National Safety Council.

Americans now have a 1 in 96 chance of dying from an opioid overdose, according to the council’s analysis of 2017 data on accidental death. The probability of dying in a motor vehicle crash is 1 in 103.

Fentanyl is now the drug most often responsible for drug overdose deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in December. And that may only be a partial view of the problem: Opioid-related overdoses also have been undercounted by as much as 35 percent, according to a study published last year in the journal Addiction.

The council has recommended tackling the epidemic by increasing pain management training for opioid prescribers, making the potentially lifesaving drug naloxone more widely available and expanding access to addiction treatment.

While the leading causes of death in the U.S. are heart disease (1 in 6 chance) and cancer (1 in 7), the rising overdose numbers are part of a distressing trend the nonprofit has tracked: The lifetime odds of an American dying from a preventable, unintentional injury have gone up over the past 15 years.

Vehicle crashes remain a leading danger as well. Kolosh said half of people who died in crashes they analyzed were not wearing seatbelts. Meanwhile, the frequency of pedestrian deaths has increased, led by a jump in fatalities in urban areas.

Kolosh said he hopes the council’s analysis will allay unfounded fears, and remind people of more common dangers.

“As human beings, we’re terrible at assessing our own risk,” Kolosh said. “We typically focus on the unusual or scary events … and assume that those are the riskiest.”

He said data show the opposite is true.

For example, an American’s likelihood of dying in a “cataclysmic storm” is just 1 in 31,394.

Dying as an airplane passenger? 1 in 188,364.

In a train wreck? 1 in 243,765.

Falling? 1 in 114.

Kolosh said the probability of dying in a fall has increased (it was 1 in 119 last year), driven by more recorded falls among older adults as the U.S. population ages. Experts say the best way to prevent that risk is exercise. It’s a reminder, Kolosh said, that each of the 169,936 preventable deaths recorded in 2017 were preventable.

“Your odds of dying are 1 in 1,” Kolosh quipped. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t do something. If, as a society, we put the appropriate rules and regulations in place we can prevent all accidental deaths in the future.”

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