NSC: Accidental Death--'a Silent Epidemic'--Happens Every Five Minutes in America

Accidental deaths in the United States are rising at an alarming rate, more than 20 percent over a 10-year period, reaching 113,000 deaths in 2005, according to the latest data available. The National Safety Council warns that at the current rate, the nation's all-time high of 116,385 accidental deaths, set in 1969, could be surpassed in the next few years.

For people between 1 and 41 years of age, accidents are the leading cause of death in the nation. While accidents continue to be the fifth leading cause of death overall, exceeded only by heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory diseases, accidental deaths are increasing at a greater rate than that of any of the top four causes of death.

"Accidental death in America is a silent epidemic. With one person dying from an accident every five minutes, unintentional injury is one of the most serious public health issues facing the country," said NSC President and CEO Alan McMillan. "Trauma from accidents follows only heart disease and cancer in national medical expenditures. For people between the ages of 18 and 64 with private health insurance, more is spent on medical care for trauma and poisoning than for any other health condition. The economic and social impact is substantial for families, communities, employers, and the health care system."

Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of accidental death in the country. Poisoning ranks second, and deaths from falls rank third, with choking and drowning rounding out the top five, which together account for 83 percent of all accidental deaths. Fire is ranked a close sixth.

Poisoning--particularly from overdoses of over-the-counter, prescription and illicit drugs--is now the fastest-rising cause of accidental death with a 5 percent increase last year alone, NSC said. Another disturbing trend is the shift toward more accidental injuries and deaths occurring in and around the home. Since 1992, the death rate from injuries in home and community settings increased 30 percent. In fact, more than half of all injury-related deaths and 75 percent of all disabling injuries are occurring in our homes and communities. Conversely, over the same period of time, the death rate for workplace injuries has declined 17 percent and the death rate for motor vehicle collisions, while still unacceptably high, is down 16 percent. "Shifts in national demographics, changes in our workplaces, and a proliferation of mobile technologies are dramatically affecting the nature and scope of the country's 21st century safety and health risks," said McMillan.

Accidents also accounted for more than 24 million nonfatal injuries in 2005, putting major stress on the nation's health care system. The economic cost of all fatal and nonfatal injuries amounted to $625.5 billion nationally, or $5,500 per household.

"Our research shows that when it comes to safety, most Americans are more concerned about being the victim of a random act of violence than they are about being seriously injured in an accident," said McMillan. "The reality is that while we are at greater risk of experiencing an accidental injury, we have greater control over managing those risks."

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