The latest news about preventable deaths in the United States has some encouraging data and one sobering statistic. On the good-news front, fewer people are dying prematurely from three of the five leading causes of death between 2010 and 2014: cancer, stroke and heart disease.

But there was a significant increase in preventable deaths from unintentional injuries, mostly because deaths from opioid overdoses are increasing.

In a report published Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data for the five leading causes of death in 2014 in the United States, which together account for 63 percent of all deaths. In each of the five categories, a substantial proportion of those deaths could have been avoided. The study assessed how the rates of these potentially preventable diseases changed from 2010 to 2014, the latest year for which numbers are available.

For all five causes, states in the Southeast continued to have the highest number of premature deaths that could have been avoided.

Researchers found that the estimated number of potentially preventable deaths fell in three categories:

• Cancer dropped 25 percent, driven by a 12 percent decrease in the age-adjusted death rate from lung cancer.

• Stroke decreased 11 percent.

• Heart disease fell by 4 percent.

The map below shows the change in potentially preventable cancer deaths for people younger than 80.


Potentially preventable cancer deaths in the United States fell 25 percent in 2014 compared with 2010. States in blue and light blue represent a statistically significant decrease. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Researchers attribute the decrease in cancer deaths, in part, to progress in prevention, early detection and treatment, and progress against cigarette smoking. Better quality of care and more people getting their high blood pressure under control were among the factors contributing to the decline in death rates for heart disease and stroke.

Researchers found virtually no change in the number of potentially preventable deaths for chronic lower respiratory disease, such as emphysema, bronchitis and asthma. Those deaths increased 1 percent in 2014 compared with 2010.

But there was a big jump — 23 percent — in deaths from unintentional injuries. The report said this increase is mostly attributed to overdoses from prescription and illicit drugs, as well as falls.


Potentially preventable deaths from unintentional injuries increased 23 percent, mostly because of prescription and illicit drug overdoses and falls. States in red (and orange) represent a statistically significant increase. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

“Fewer Americans are dying young from preventable causes of death,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “Tragically, deaths from overdose are increasing because of the opioid epidemic, and there are still large differences between states in all preventable causes of death, indicating that many more lives can be saved through use of prevention and treatment available today.”

Appalachia, the upper Midwest and the Northeast have been hit especially hard by the opioid epidemic. Many of those states have suffered a large number of overdose deaths.

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