Facts + Statistics: Mortality risk

Odds of dying from accidental injuries

The chart below shows the likelihood, or odds, of dying as a result of a specific type of accident. The odds of dying over a one-year period are based on the U.S. population as a whole, not on participants in any particular activity or on how dangerous that activity may be. For example, more people are killed in auto accidents than in motorcycle accidents or airplane crashes, not because riding a motorcycle or traveling in an airplane is more or less dangerous, but because far more people travel by car. Drug poisoning is the leading cause of injury death in the United States. The lifetime chances of dying from accidental drug poisoning were one in 68 in 2017, compared with one in 572 in a car accident and one in 218,106 for fatal injuries caused by lightning.

Odds Of Death In The United States By Selected Cause Of Injury, 2017 (1)


Cause of death Number of
deaths, 2017
One-year odds Lifetime odds
Accidental poisoning by and exposure to
noxious substances
64,795 5,027 64
     Drug poisoning 61,311 5,313 68
     Opioids (including both legal and illegal) 43,036 7,569 96
All motor vehicle accidents 40,231 8,096 103
     Car occupants 7,248 44,939 572
     Motorcycle riders 4,832 67,409 858
     Pedestrians 7,450 43,721 556
Assault by firearm 14,542 22,399 285
Exposure to smoke, fire and flames 2,812 115,832 1,474
Fall on and from stairs and steps 2,493 130,654 1,662
Drowning and submersion while in or
falling into swimming pool
723 450,511 5,732
Fall on and from ladder or scaffolding 569 572,441 7,283
Air and space transport accidents 385 846,024 10,764
Firearms discharge (accidental) 486 670,204 8,527
Cataclysmic storm (3) 132 2,467,570 31,394
Flood 27 12,063,673 153,482
Lightning 19 17,143,115 218,106
Earthquake and other earth movements 13 25,055,321 318,770
Bitten or struck by dog 36 9,047,755 115,111

(1) Based on fatalities and life expectancy in 2017. Ranked by deaths in 2017.
(2) Includes all types of medications including narcotics and hallucinogens, alcohol and gases.
(3) Includes hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, dust storms and other cataclysmic storms.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics; National Safety Council.

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  • The odds of dying from an injury in 2017 were 1 in 1,316 according to the latest data available.
  • The lifetime odds of dying from an injury for a person born in 2017 were 1 in 17.
  • The odds of dying from a drug poisoning of any kind were 1 in 5,313 in 2017; the lifetime odds were 1 in 68 for a person born in 2017.

The opioid crisis

Opioid abuse and addiction is recognized as a significant public health problem in the United States. Drug overdose, from prescription and illegal drugs combined, is the leading cause of injury death in the United States. Between 2000 and 2017 deaths from drug overdose increased four-fold from 17,415 in 2000 to 70,237 in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Opioid analgesics, a group of prescription drugs that are used to alleviate chronic and acute pain, have been increasingly involved in the rise of drug overdose deaths over the same period. In 2000 there were 8,407 deaths attributed to opioids of all kinds, with prescription drugs and illegal drugs such as heroin, accounting for about half of all drug overdose deaths. By 2017 that proportion had grown to close to 70 percent. Heroin alone accounted for 11 percent of all drug overdose deaths in 2000 and grew to 22 percent in 2017.

Number Of Drug Overdose Deaths, 2000-2017


(1) Drug overdose caused by prescription and illegal drugs.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics.

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Many states and municipalities have filed lawsuits against opioid drug makers that they blame for a national addiction crisis. As of August 2018, there were more than 1,000 opioid-related lawsuits brought in more than 40 states, according to Fitch Ratings. In 2018, a judicial panel consolidated all federal cases—which numbered more than 1,500 at the beginning of 2019—against opioid manufacturers and distributors under one judge. Set to begin on October 21, 2019, the court of the Northern District of Ohio will try three consolidated Ohio lawsuits in a test case against four entities including makers and distributors. The plaintiffs include almost 200 municipal governments which will pursue reimbursement for the costs of drug addiction and its collateral damage. In addition, about 300 cases have been filed in 36 state courts. One of those cases,  the State of Oklahoma v. Purdue Pharma, which was scheduled to begin on May 28, 2019, ended in March as the company and its owners, the Sackler family, agreed to pay $270 million to settle the Oklahoma claims. The case was seen as a test that would set a standard for the drug company’s liability.

A June 2017 report issued by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association found that diagnoses of opioid-use disorder (addiction to opioids, including prescription painkillers and illegal narcotics such as heroin) increased almost 500 percent between 2010 and 2016. The study examined claims from 30 million people who had commercial insurance provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers. It found that opioid-use disorder was 40 times more likely in patients prescribed high doses for a short duration, compared with low doses for a short duration. Opioid-use disorder was seven times more likely when patients were prescribed a high dose for a long duration, rather than a low dose for a long duration. In addition, 21 percent of Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) commercially-insured members filled at least one opioid prescription in 2015, according to the report.

Health risks

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 647,457 fatalities in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Age-adjusted death rates (which factor out differences based on age)increased significantly in 2017 compared with 2016 for 10 out of the 15 leading causes of death. However, there was a significant decrease in the 2017 death rate for cancer.

Influenza and pneumonia ranked eighth in 2017, with 55,672 fatalities. However, pandemic influenza viruses have the potential to be far more deadly. An estimated 675,000 Americans died during the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, the deadliest and most infectious known influenza strain to date.

Top 15 Major Causes of Death, 2017


      Age-adjusted death rate (1)
Rank Cause of death Number of deaths Rate Percent change
from 2016
1 Heart disease   647,457 165.0 –0.3%
2 Malignant neoplasms (tumors)   599,108 152.5 –2.1
3 Accidents (unintentional injuries)   169,936 49.4 4.2
4 Chronic lower respiratory diseases   160,201 40.9 0.7
5 Cerebrovascular diseases (stroke)   146,383 37.6 0.8
6 Alzheimer's disease   121,404 31.0 2.3
7 Diabetes   83,564 21.5 2.4
8 Influenza and pneumonia   55,672 14.3 5.9
9 Kidney disease   50,633 13.0 –0.8
10 Intentional self-harm (suicide)   47,173 14.0 3.7
11 Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis   41,743 10.9 1.9
12 Septicemia   40,922 10.6 –0.9
13 Hypertension (2)   35,316 9.0 4.7
14 Parkinson's disease   31,963 8.4 5.0
15 Pneumonitis due to solids and liquids   20,108 5.1 –1.9
  All other causes   561,920 NA NA
  All deaths 2,813,503 731.9 0.4%

(1) Per 100,000 population; factors out differences based on age.
(2) Essential (primary) hypertension and hypertensive renal disease.

NA=Not applicable.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics.

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