MOUNT VERNON — Ohio has joined 15 other states where drug-related deaths have overtaken the number of people killed in auto accidents.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, traffic-related deaths are still the No. 1 cause of death nationwide, but the number of states in which drug-related deaths is higher than traffic fatalities has gone from eight in 2003 to 12 in 2005, and to 16 in 2006. It’s a trend Ohio coroners have been watching.
“Starting in 2006, the trend we are seeing in Ohio is that deaths from accidental overdoses are more prevalent than traffic deaths,” said Knox County Coroner Dr. Jennifer Ogle. “Fortunately, in our county right now, it has not yet exceeded traffic deaths.”
Ogle said that in 2008, Knox County had five accidental overdoses, all opiates. Her records show there were six automobile and three motorcycle deaths, plus two off-road vehicle deaths.
However, she said, judging by what is going on in the rest of the state, she expects the number of overdose deaths to rise in Knox County.
“Already this year we’ve had five [accidental overdose deaths], and we have a couple more months to go,” she said.
“I am very concerned over the change in these trends,” she said. “As parents, we need to remember that vehicles are no longer the No. 1 risk for our teenage children. We need to start the dialogue about the dangers of drugs early.”
CDC officials have attributed the changes to a combination of increasing drug use and better education on driver safety. Ogle agrees.
“There’s a huge amount of Oxycontin use,” she said. “Oxycontin use drives heroin use. Oxycontin is very expensive; you can get heroin so much cheaper than Oxycontin. Heroin is about 10 times as potent as Oxycontin. The addiction with heroin is almost instantaneous, and people need to know that.
“The scary thing is that heroin can be as cheap as a six-pack,” she added. “That makes it too accessible to people who want to experiment.”
According to the CDC, more than 45,000 deaths nationwide were due to traffic accidents in 2006; there were about 39,000 from drug-induced causes. CDC researchers obtained the information from death certificate data.
About 90 percent of the drug fatalities were sudden deaths from overdoses, but the count includes people who died from organ damage from long-term drug use.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the national death rate from traffic accidents fell by about 6.5 percent between 1999 and 2006.