SALT LAKE CITY — Utah leads the nation in many categories. Unfortunately, one of them is drug overdose deaths, a new national report says.
Utah ranks fifth in the nation for overdose deaths, according to a new report by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, "The Facts Hurt, A State by State Injury Prevention Policy Report, 2015."
The numbers suggest a slight improvement in Utah's rate of overdose deaths, but education and public awareness are needed, says Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, who in recent years has passed legislation intended to reduce overdose deaths.
Unlike other forms of injury deaths, such as motor vehicle accidents, drownings and falls, public awareness about overdose deaths lags behind.
"I think there's more shame involved with something that identifies people as drug users or abusers, even though the majority of these drug overdose cases are deemed accidental," Spackman Moss said.
The report, released Wednesday, says "drug overdose deaths are now the nation's leading cause of injury death in the United States, resulting in nearly 44,000 deaths in 2013."
Overdose deaths more than doubled from 1999-2013. More than half of the deaths were related to prescription drugs, with 16,000 deaths tied to prescription painkillers and 7,000 to anxiety and sleep medications, the report states.
All types of injuries kill one person every three minutes in the United States, the report says. Injuries are the leading cause of death for all Americans between the ages of 1 and 44.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the majority of injuries are "predictable, preventable and avoidable."
The report calls for public health policies, public education campaigns and programs that give Americans the tools they need to stay safe and protect their families.
Unlike car crashes, drownings or falls, Spackman Moss said overdose deaths are "not as visible to the general public."
But because addiction affects many families, a growing number of people recognize it is an illness and they are willing to speak out about it.
"I am heartened by the fact I see more and more in obituaries people are saying openly, 'He struggled with addiction,'" she said.
Nationwide, car and other vehicle crashes remain a leading cause of death for Americans ages 5 to 34. While these deaths have decreased by 25 percent in the past decades, more than 33,000 Americans die in motor vehicle crashes each year.
Meanwhile, suicide accounts for about 41,000 deaths a year across the country. Rates decreased from 1993 to 2000 but increased close to previous levels by 2013.
Suicides among people ages 45 to 54 increased the most — up 36.8 percent between 1993 and 2013, according to the report.
Utah had one of the highest rates of suicide deaths between 2011 and 2013, with 20.6 per 100,000 population, compared to the national rate of 12.5. Only Wyoming, New Mexico and Alaska had higher rates for the three-year period.
Teresa Brechlin, violence prevention program manager for the Utah Department of Health, told the Deseret News in a previous interview that youth suicides are more common at ages 15 to 18.
"We do see suicide as young as 8. That’s very rare. But 10 isn’t so rare," she said.
Homicides, fire deaths
National researchers reported some positive trends, reductions in homicide rates and deaths from fires.
Homicide rates have dropped 42 percent in the past 20 years but there are still 16,000 homicides each year. Homicide rates among black males ages 10 to 24 are more than 10 times higher than the U.S. population, 49.2 per 100,000 population compared to 5.2 per 100,000, the report says.
Deaths from fire kill about eight Americans a day but have dropped about 20 percent since 2002, largely due to increased use of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and sprinklers.
Among older Americans, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths. One in three Americans 65 and older experience a major fall annually, the report says.
"The number of fall injuries and deaths are expected to increase as the baby boomer cohort ages; the number of seniors 65 and older will increase from 40 million to more than 88 million in 2050," the report says.
Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America's Health, said the report illustrates that evidence-based strategies can help prevent and reduce rates of injury deaths across the board.
"Injuries are not just acts of fate. Research shows they are pretty predictable and preventable," Levi said.
"It's not rocket science, but it does require common sense and investment in good public health practice."
Contributing: Lois M. Collins