For the first time in United States history, on average, a person is more likely to die from an accidental opioid overdose than a car crash.
According to the National Safety Council, which compiles an annual list of the odds of death for the statistical individual, the odds of an accidental opioid overdose are 1 in 96. The odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident are 1 in 103.
“We've made significant strides in overall longevity in the United States, but we are dying from things typically called accidents at rates we haven't seen in half a century,” Ken Kolosh, manager of statistics at the National Safety Council said in a public statement. “We cannot be complacent about 466 lives lost every day. This new analysis reinforces that we must consistently prioritize safety at work, at home and on the road to prevent these dire outcomes.”
Michelle Standeford, executive director of the Boone County Youth & Family Health Network isn’t surprised by the news.
“It’s increased every year over the last four or five,” she said. “All the efforts are in place for trying to get in front of it. I just feel we’re years behind.”
Standeford joined a group of citizens to create the Youth & Family Health Network which opened Ohana House in Lebanon in 2018. Ohana House is a recovery home for female addicts. The city already had a facility for male addicts.
Standeford's motivation were her son and a nephew who both died from accidental overdoses. In the case of her son, the path to addiction began with a prescription.
“We should’ve been more in front of what was going on,” Standeford said. “The overprescribing, improper prescribing …. The needs five years ago were there, they just weren’t being talked about.”
The pattern, Standeford said, typically starts with a prescription of painkillers. She says doctors are becoming better informed about the risk of opioid painkillers which are abruptly stopped.
“Because they become addicted to it and they start turning to other things,” she said. “That can be heroin or to make them not feel sick, they start using meth so they don’t go through withdrawals of the opioids.”
The YFHN recently secured $50,000 to form a Quick Response Team or QRT, which follows up with people who recently overdosed. The team is made up of law enforcement, community workers, medical and mental health professionals who offer help and community resources to victims within the first 72 hours.
While she is pleased with the resources that have been created within the last five years, she says it may still take a superhuman effort to stem the tide of accidental deaths from opioids.
“This is not like an alcoholic trying to dry up,” she said. “That addiction is different than being an alcoholic. These people belong to somebody and they don’t want to live that life, so how do we help them?”