Atlanta » In 16 states and counting, drugs now kill more people than auto accidents do, the government said Wednesday.
Experts said the startling shift reflects two opposite trends: Driving is becoming safer, and the legal and illegal use of powerful prescription painkillers is on the rise.
For decades, traffic accidents have been the biggest cause of injury-related death in the U.S., and they are still No. 1. But drug overdoses are pulling ahead in one state after another.
"People see a car accident as something that might happen to them," said Margaret Warner, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But as for death from a drug overdose, "maybe they see it as something that's not going happen to them."
The drug-related death rate roughly doubled from the late 1990s to 2006, according to the most recent CDC data.
The number of states in which drug-related deaths have overtaken traffic fatalities has gone from eight in 2003 to 12 in 2005, and 16 in 2006. They are: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
The Associated Press