Unintentional Injury Death Rates in Rural and Urban Areas: United States, 1999–2017

Questions for Lead Author Henry Olaisen, EIS Fellow, of “Unintentional Injury Death Rates in Rural and Urban Areas: United States, 1999–2017.”

Q: Can you define what an unintentional injury death is?  Is there a difference in the term accidental death?

HO: Unintentional injury deaths consist of those deaths involving injuries for which there are no evidence of predetermined intent, meaning intention of harm to self or others. In 2017, the leading causes of unintentional deaths in the U.S. were drug overdose, motor vehicle crashes, and falls.

Unintentional injury deaths are a subset of injury deaths, and exclude those that are intentional (e.g. where there is intent to harm) and those where intent is unknown. Among drug overdose deaths, unintentional drug deaths comprise 87% of all deaths due to overdose.


Q: Do you have data that directly corresponds with this report that goes back further than 1999?

HO: We here at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics have data dating back to 1959. Given our focus on unintentional injury and the changing patterns of where people live and work in the U.S., we focused on the most recent 18 years, as they are trend patterns that not only tell an important story, but can guide decision-makers and inform new policies to avoid these types of preventable deaths in the near future.


Q: Was there a specific finding in your report that surprised you?

HO: We were surprised that drug overdose death rates are not only growing fastest in the last three years in suburban counties (“large fringe counties”), but that the rate of drug overdose deaths is now (in 2017) highest in small metro and suburban counties(“large fringe counties), and lowest in rural counties.


Q: Why do you think there is a difference in unintentional injury deaths from rural and urban areas?

HO: We observed differences in trends and patterns of unintentional injury deaths using mortality data from the   National Center for Health Statistics. Determining the reasons for the difference is a really important next step, and not something we looked at in this report. We at the National Center for Health Statistics encourage scientists to use these data to help us understand the underlying causes for these observed trends and patterns.


Q: What is the take home message for this report?

HO: Unintentional injury death rates – which are preventable deaths, are on the rise, with a steeper increase since 2014. Between 2014 and 2017, large fringe metro counties had the largest increase in unintentional drug overdose rates; small metro had the largest increase in motor vehicle death rates; and rural counties had the largest increase in death rates due to unintentional falls. While motor vehicle deaths have historically been the leading cause of unintentional deaths for several decades, in 2013 unintentional overdose deaths became the leading cause of unintentional deaths.

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