Plane crashes, fires, shark attacks, murders and terrorists keep us up at night. A death as the result of an injury is one of most people’s darkest fears. Yet, statistically these scenarios are highly unlikely to occur to one of us, while real dangers lurk much closer to home. The average American has a only a 1 in 11 million chance of dying in a plane crash each year but a 1 in 5,000 risk of dying in a car crash. Suicide, car accidents, accidental drug overdoses and falls claim the lives of Americas every day. The injuries we are the most vulnerable to are a part of the fabric of our everyday lives. Together, as individuals and communities, and we can take part in public health efforts to help prevent these fatal injures from occurring.
Every three minutes an American dies as the result of an injury. Injuries are the number one killer of children and adults under age 44. As the result of an accident or violence, injuries are most often sudden and leave deep scars on loved ones and communities. As children we are taught to look both ways when crossing the street, to always wear a helmet, and to not trust strangers. As adults in our modern world, we need new lessons to avoid harm’s way. Historically, injuries have been associated with youth, recklessness and males. Yet in the last decade, the populations at risk for injury have changed. While younger generations remain the most susceptible to injuries overall, the risk of injury-related deaths are sharply on the rise in the Baby Boomer generation for both men and women. Although, men still face double the risk of death by injury and violence compared to women, some middle-aged women’s lives are under deadly threat from accidental injury.
For the first time in modern history, suicide has become the leading cause of death from injury. Over the past decade, more Americans took their own lives than died on US roads. Also for first time, middle-aged Americans are taking their own lives at a higher rate than any other age group. The suicide rate of Americans aged 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30%. Car accidents remain the second leading cause of injury with rates of collisions declining in teens and the elderly, but on rise in all other age groups. Nearly as common as dying in a car crash, unintentional poisoning is the third leading cause of injury-related death. Unintentional poisoning is the accidental ingestion of a poison, which is almost always a drug. Over the last decade, accidental drug overdoses skyrocketed and the face of drug use in America changed. Middle-aged women are the nation’s fastest growing group of drug users with a strong predilection for prescription painkillers. Since 2007, more women have died from prescription drug overdose than in car accidents and four times as many Americans now die as a result of prescription painkillers than from heroin and cocaine combined. The fourth leading cause of injury deaths is falls, a particular risk for aging Americans and the elderly. The rate of death from unintentional falls rose 71% in the last decade, and is the leading cause of accidental death at home.
Injuries are a part of our everyday lives, yet injuries are largely preventable. Prevention measures we take as individuals, as communities, and as a nation can have huge impacts and save lives.