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Opinion: We’re afraid of the wrong thing

Opinion: We’re afraid of the wrong thing

Dot Sulock

Dot Sulock, GUEST COLUMNIST 4:18 p.m. ET March 26, 2017

We should be more afraid of bad driving, drug overdoses, and firearms in the hands of the irresponsible than terrorism. Presidential policies should help protect us from the real dangers not those popularized by our entertainment culture.

President Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 27, called “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” which suspended for 90 days the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry of people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. According to the Pulitzer-Prize winning website, Politifact, no one in the United States has been killed in a terrorist attack by someone from any of the seven banned countries.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland is a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence. This center states that 164 Americans have been killed in terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001 through December 2014, including perpetrators and excluding deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq. That’s 164 deaths in 15 years or about 11 deaths per year.

While 2,902 Americans were killed in the 2001 World Trade Center attack, 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, two were from UAE, one from Egypt and one from Lebanon. None of those countries are part of the new ban.

Let’s compare those fatalities with other sources of non-disease deaths.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a slogan “Saving Lives, Protecting People”. They tell us that in the U.S. in 2014, there were: 199,756 injury deaths; 51,966 poisoning deaths; 33,804 motor vehicle traffic deaths; and 33,736 firearm deaths. The “poisoning” deaths bring to mind movies where the spouse poisons the no longer beloved with arsenic, but most of these deaths are actually drug-related. In 2014 there were 47,055 drug-poisoning deaths in the U.S. of which 18,893 were from opiod-analgesics and 10,574 were from heroin – think overdose.

Of course fatality figures do not include those injured and recovered or those injured beyond recovery from these sources, so fatality numbers way underestimate the cost of these drug tragedies. With 11 fatalities/year from terrorists and 33,000 fatalities/year from motor vehicles and 33,000 fatalities/year from firearms and pushing 50,000 fatalities/year from drugs (often prescription drugs), creating increased fear of terrorism obscures the real dangers.

What can we do to actually make ourselves safer? Well for starters we could forbid commercials promoting dangerous driving, shooting people, and prescription drugs. We could educate youth and adults better about the real dangers of many addictive drugs. We could prevent addictive drugs from being over-prescribed. We could work harder to keep firearms out of the hands of the irresponsible. Of course we also must remember that diseases disable and kill many more than these numbers of people. So affordable health care, especially preventative health care, will make us safer.

Clean air and clean water make us healthier also. And eating properly, exercising and having a good sense of humor make each of us safer. Focusing on fear of terrorism blinds us to the real dangers and our real ways to avoid them. Let’s refocus and speak out to others and to our elected representatives to pursue and achieve these things we could do!

Dot Sulock is a retired UNCA professor after teaching math for 40 years. She is a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

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