NSC: Accidental Opioid Overdoses Main Cause of Poisoning in USA

Injury Facts 2016 stated that there were approximately 136,053 unintentional-injury related deaths in the United States in 2014, with accidental poisoning as the number one cause. This was the first time that deaths from motor vehicles was not number one.

Accidental Opioid Overdoses Increasing

This increase in fatalities was due in large part to accidental opioid overdoses. Opioids were involved in 28,647 deaths (61% of the 47,055 drug overdose deaths) in the United States in 2014. In 2015, the overdose death number increased to 52,404 with 33,091 of those associated with opioids. The National Safety Council has calculated an American’s odds of dying from an opioid overdose are 1 in 98. The lifetime odds of dying in a motor vehicle crash are 1 in 112.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin as well as pain relievers (e.g., oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and others). These drugs reduce pain but can also create sensations of euphoria and thus are easily misused. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2011, 650,000 opioid prescriptions were dispensed per day (approximately 235 million a year). In 2014, more than 240 million prescriptions were written. In addition, three out of four users of heroin previously abused prescription opioids. (Note: It is a felony to share opioid prescription drugs.)

Other Costs

Preventable deaths are disheartening, but opioid addiction is a blight on society as a whole. In 2007, the National Institutes of Health estimated the total cost of illicit drugs in the U.S. was $193 billion (of which $55.7 billion was in prescription opioid misuse), including costs associated with crime, lost work productivity, and health care. This number has increased as the number of drug users and unintentional deaths has continued to skyrocket.

What Can We Do?

What can be done to halt this epidemic? Some areas, such as Madison-Dane County, Wisconsin, launched a coordinated effort to stop drug overdoses. This effort includes such actions as forming a parent addiction network, setting up a drop box for unwanted/unused medications, increasing access to naloxone (which can reverse opioid overdose), equipping physicians with tools to aid in limiting abusers’ access to prescriptions, and launching a bus billboard campaign centering around the slogan “Would you let a friend die?”

The CDC also released a Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain to aid physicians in their clinical decision making as to the other drugs that are effective pain relievers. We as consumers should become savvy regarding what is available for pain relief, as in the end, we have the ultimate say over what we consume.


The National Safety Council provides information about the prescription drug abuse epidemic on its website, including helpful tools for employers. They offer a free kit that includes a guide, fact sheets and handouts, 5-minute safety talks, and a poster series.

“Keep Each Other Safe”

National Safety Month starts next week with the theme of “Keep Each Other Safe.” With this in mind, we encourage you to share this information with a family member, friend, or colleague.


If you have questions about this information or need assistance for your company, facility, or project, please feel free to contact us.