Robert Cox

Writing on the Wall

Robert Cox is a reporter and page designer for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CCNnews@cox-internet.com.


Odds on opioids just too risky

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Bless all my math teachers for their patience and understanding.

Math has never been my strongest suit. Donít get me wrong ó I can do it and understand it, I just donít generally retain the methods without daily use.

Spending my early years as a sportswriter, I came to rely on box scores, season averages and the like and can still figure out a teamís winning percentage against a left-handed quarterback in a snow game on a Saturday fairly easily.

Outside of sports, one of the numerical sets I occasionally explore is the odds of death by various causes. That sounds morbid, I know, but I often find it fascinating to know how likely it is to die from sunstroke (1 in 8,912), as a passenger on a train (1 in 243,765), or from a lightning strike (1 in 218,106).

Of course, looking at all those numbers is a surefire way to reconnect with your own mortality, but it can also illustrate a problem in a way that simply saying it cannot.

According to a new study from the National Safety Council, Americans are now more likely to die from an opioid overdose (1 in 92) than from a car accident (1 in 107).

The chance of dying from an opioid overdose also outstrips the chances of being killed in a fall (1 in 106) or in a gun assault (1 in 289) or by an accidental gun discharge (1 in 8,527).

You read that correctly. The odds of dying from an opioid overdose are nearly three times higher than from getting shot in a violent crime.

Thatís insane. The fact that the odds of death from gun assaults are so high on the list is bad enough, but the fact that opioids are even more likely to kill you is almost unfathomable. Until you stop and think about it.

Opioids are narcotic pain medications. They serve a purpose, sure, but if not taken correctly, they can produce serious side effects, including addiction.

Nearly everyone can think of someone they know, either directly or indirectly, who has fallen victim to an overdose of this type, whether they know it or not. I know I do, and it breaks my heart every time.

Her name was Sarah, and she was my wife. I donít talk about it much ó even now, five years later, it hurts too much and thereís a stigma attached ó but an accidental overdose ended her life and changed mine forever.

Iíve never been too reliant on drugs of any kind. I have a high pain threshold and a low tolerance. Aspirin generally does the trick for me. Sarah was different. Despite years of living in pain, she had a low threshold for it, but had developed a high tolerance for her medications.

One night, she took her pills and went to bed. As near as I can figure, she woke up at some point ó in pain ó and didnít remember that sheíd already taken her meds. She took them again.

In the morning, she was gone.

Opioids arenít just things like fentanyl, heroin, oxycodone ó the ones you read about in police reports or see in TV shows and movies.

Thereís a whole list of drugs, from Tylenol-3 to straight-up morphine, on that list. Itís very easy to become addicted even when youíre being careful.

She wasnít taking any of those ó her pain medication wasnít even high on the list ó but too much of anything can be dangerous.

Everyone, I would hope, realizes how bad the opioid crisis is in this country. If not, I would hope these odds drive it home.

I donít have a solution to the crisis, but I hope seeing the odds in black and white might serve to educate more people on how careful and cautious they need to be with these powerful drugs.

Dying is a part of life, sure, but it seems too risky to play the odds.