W.Va. Ranks Highest in the Nation in Preventable Deaths, Report Says

Jun 17, 2015

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Despite taking many steps to prevent injuries, West Virginia ranks highest for the number of injury-related deaths in the United States. That’s according to a new report published this week that looks state-by-state at injury prevention policy.

Many of the injury-related deaths that put West Virginia in the lead nationally are attributed to drug overdoses, according to data compiled by Trust for America's Health (TFAH). The organization published the new report along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Its title: The Facts Hurt: A State-By-State Injury Prevention Policy Report

“Injuries are not just acts of fate. Research show they are pretty predictable and they are actually very preventable," said TFAH Executive Director, Jeff Levy on a conference call discussing his organization’s new report.

“Overall, West Virginia has the highest rate of injury-deaths at 97.9 deaths per 100,000 people. New York the lowest at 40.3 deaths per 100,000 people.”

Levy said West Virginia has implemented policies very recently that will hopefully help curb those numbers in coming years - perhaps most importantly, policies to address the drug epidemic the state and nation face. More specifically, a new law went into effect last month, the Opioid Antagonist Act, which expands access to the overdose-counteracting drug Naloxone, allowing addicts and family members the ability to purchase the medicine through a prescription. Levy says drug overdoses became the leading cause of injury-related death in the nation about four years ago, surpassing motor vehicle deaths. Almost half of drug-related deaths are from prescription pill overdoses.

“Prescription drug abuse is a national epidemic," Levy said, "but it impacts some states much more than others. West Virginia had the highest number of overdose and poisoning deaths. 33.5 per 100,000 people.”

But while more than 2 million Americans misuse drugs, the report says, there are a myriad of other ways to die by injury such as motor vehicle accidents, homicides and suicides. The report also points to traumatic brain injuries, warning that TBIs from sports and recreation among children have increased by 60 percent in the last decade. And one in three Americans older than 64 experiences a serious fall each year. While falls aren’t often fatal, they can lead to fatal complications and are a major concern in a state like West Virginia with an aging population. And increases in falls nationwide are anticipated as the Baby Boomer generation ages.

The Facts Hurt says preventable accidents cost the U.S. billions of dollars in medical care that could be better spent on other critical matters in the state and nation, like education and infrastructure projects.