Prescription Painkiller Deaths Continue to Rise

Written by eHealth Navigator

While most major causes of preventable death are declining, drugs are an exception where the death toll has doubled in the last decade.  Heart disease and other health problems remain by far the overall largest killer in the US, however, overdose from prescription drugs became the leading cause of accidental death in 2009 when it surpassed car crashes.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls the problem an epidemic.

Fueling the surge are prescription pain and anxiety drugs that are potent, highly addictive and especially dangerous when combined with one another or with other drugs or alcohol.  Examples identified are opiod painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax, Soma, and methadone as primary contributors that led to the bulk of accidental deaths.  In recent years deaths rose the most among teens and young adults, but adults of all ages have shown an increase.

In one study, four in ten overdose deaths involving single prescription painkillers involved methadone, twice as many as any other prescription painkiller.   But many people who die of a painkiller overdoses do not have a prescription.  How this happens is some of the prescriptions are illegally sold or given to people who use them for nonmedical reasons.  This is known as diversion.  Diversion is a major factor according to the Center for Disease Control in the prescription drug abuse epidemic.  More careful prescribing will help reduce diversion and save lives.

The government has tried a multitude of strategies to combat the problem from monitoring doctors and pharmacies that over index in pain killer medications prescribing and dispensing, to launching programs encouraging people to return unused pills, and by providing better training to doctors on how to properly prescribe the medicines.  Still many experts believe the government has had little impact on curbing the accidental death rates related to prescription drugs, and as a result feel it is time for the Food and Drug Administration to change the prescription guidelines for opioid painkillers to reduce access to these powerful and addictive medications.

Source: National Vital Statistics 2010 and CDC. Vital Signs: Overdoses of Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers—United States, 1999-2008. MMWR 2011; 60: 1-6

Last Updated on Friday, 14 June 2013 1:51PM