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Drugs, Cars & Guns Are Killing Americans

By May Wilkerson 02/12/16
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Drugs, Cars & Guns Are Killing Americans
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People die much younger in the US than other affluent countries, and guns, car accidents and drug overdoses may be largely to blame for the difference.

Deaths from injuries related to these three things accounted for 6% of deaths among American men and 3% among women, researchers wrote. "Although the reasons for the gap in life expectancy at birth between the United States and comparable countries are complex, a substantial portion of this gap reflects just three causes of injury," concluded the team of researchers, from the National Center of Health Statistics (NCHS).

"The United States experiences lower life expectancy at birth than many other high-income countries,” wrote the researchers in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “Although research has focused on mortality of the population older than 50 years, much of this life expectancy gap reflects mortality at younger ages, when mortality is dominated by injury deaths, and many decades of expected life are lost.”

For this study, researchers focused on deaths related to car crashes, firearm-related injuries, and drug poisonings. These are the three largest causes of injury death in the US and responsible for over 100,000 deaths per year.

Researchers then compared this death rate to US death rates to those in 12 similar, high-income countries: Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. Among men, they found that firearm-related injuries accounted for 21% of the difference in death rate, drug overdoses accounted for 14%, and car accidents for 13%. Among women, the gap was slightly less but still significant.

Past studies have found that Americans tend to have higher rates of infant mortality, injury and homicide, drug abuse, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and lung disease than other affluent countries. Americans are also seven times more likely to be murdered than people in these other countries, and 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun.

Though the exact causes of the US’ high mortality rate are “complex,” as the researchers said, they do help explain why the US spends significantly more on healthcare than the global average, and yet falls close to the middle when it comes to mortality rate, among all countries in the world, including much poorer countries.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.

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