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Unintentional injury deaths are mostly preventable

What is the fourth leading overall cause of death in the U.S., and the leading cause of death for those aged 1 to 44? You might think it was cancer or another illness, but the surprising answer is unintentional injuries and the CDC estimates that almost 40 percent of unintentional injury deaths are preventable.

The costs are high. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), the estimated national cost of unintentional injuries in 2013 was $820.6 billion. Oregonians die from unintentional injuries at a higher rate than the national average, according to the most recent statistics. In 2010, Oregon experienced 1,566 unintentional injury deaths costing over $1.2 billion in medical and work lost costs.

Poisoning, including opioid overdoses, has become the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in the US, including in Oregon, overtaking motor vehicle deaths.

Males are more likely to experience unintentional injury deaths even from the time they are small. Nationally, men account for 92 percent of fatal workplace injuries. In Oregon the injury mortality rate among males is nearly twice that of females according to the Oregon Health Authority.

We all have a vested interest in preventing unintentional injuries. We have the knowhow, but we need to put it into practice.

Womenshealth.gov has some simple tips for unintentional injury prevention.

Don’t drive when you feel sleepy. Don't drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Also, don't accept a ride with an impaired driver.

Wear your seat belt.

Drive the speed limit and obey traffic laws.

Look for safety issues around your home and fix or remove problems. Remove tripping hazards that can cause falls, such as cords or loose rugs.

Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home are working.

Use the handrail when walking up or down stairs.

Use safety gear during sports activities, such as a helmet when biking.

Follow workplace safety guidelines and OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) standards.

Learn to swim.

Use care with ladders, power equipment and chemicals when working around the home.

The CDC’s Injury Prevention & Control website provides even more information.

Let’s work toward reducing the number of unintentional injuries. The lives and money saved will be well worth it.

Susan Johnson, Regional Director, US Department of Health and Human Services, Region 10