Poisonings, suicides fuel rise in U.S. injury deaths

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The death rate from injury in the United States is rising this decade after declining since the late 1970s, spurred by increases in accidental poisonings and suicides, health officials said on Thursday.

The injury death rate nationally increased 5.5 percent from 1999 to 2004 after a two-decade period of decline, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rate counts deaths from such causes as unintentional injury, suicide, homicide, traffic deaths and even capital punishment. There were 167,184 such deaths in 2004.

Unintentional poisoning deaths -- there were 20,950 of them in 2004 -- accounted for more than half of the total increase in injury deaths during the period studied, the CDC said.

There was a 62.5-percent jump in the death rate from unintentional poisonings from 1999 to 2004, the CDC said.

CDC epidemiologist Dr. Len Paulozzi said a major part of this category includes drug overdoses involving prescription drugs as well as illicit drugs such as cocaine or heroin.

The study did not break down deaths by drug type, but the CDC has noticed a rise in prescription drug deaths particularly involving powerful painkillers, Paulozzi said.

“Narcotic painkillers are playing a part,” Paulozzi said in a telephone interview.

There were 5,800 suicides by poisoning and 3,455 poisoning deaths in which it was unknown whether it was an accident or suicide in 2004. The suicide rate rose 4.3 percent from 1999 to 2004, the CDC said. The rate of gun suicides dropped, but suicides by hanging or suffocation rose 28.6 percent.

Traffic accident death rates remained steady, and homicide rates dipped 2 percent during those years, the CDC said.

Americans ages 45 to 54 saw the largest increase in injury death rates -- up 25 percent from 1999 to 2004.

Editing by Maggie Fox and Xavier Briand