Prescription Drug Overdoses Continue To Rise
February 21, 2013

Continued Increase In Deaths Related To Drug Overdose For 11th Consecutive Year

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published a research letter highlighting the increase in deaths related to drug overdoses. In that report, researchers also explain that 2010 was the 11th consecutive year where a rise in deaths was seen.

The analysis by the CDC demonstrated that 38,329 people died due to a drug overdose in the United States in 2010. The continuous rise in deaths first started in 1999 when 16,849 people were found to have died due to drug overdoses. The overdose deaths linked to opioid analgesics (otherwise known as painkillers) have also had a similar increase over the last few years. In 1999, there were 4,030 deaths associated with opioid analgesics. In 2009, the number of deaths related to opioid analgesics increased to 15,597. In 2010, there were 16,651 deaths involving opioid analgesics.

"This analysis confirms the predominant role opioid analgesics play in pharmaceutical overdose deaths, either alone or in combination with other drugs," wrote the investigators in the research letter noted in an article by Med Page Today. "It also, however, highlights the frequent involvement of drugs typically prescribed for mental health conditions, such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and antipsychotics in overdose deaths."

In addition, in 2010, almost 60 percent of the drug overdose deaths (22,134) had some involvement of pharmaceutical drugs. Approximately three out of every four pharmaceutical overdose deaths (16,651) had some kind of opioid analgesics involved, including drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone. These statistics prove that opioid analgesics had an impact on the number of drug overdose deaths.

Furthermore, the team of investigators discovered that many drugs prescribed for mental health issues were related to a high percentage of pharmaceutical overdose deaths. Almost 30 percent of the deaths (6,497) were related to benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety drugs), 18 percent (3,889 deaths) were related to antidepressants, and six percent (1,351) were related to antipsychotic drugs.

The research letter by the CDC investigators was featured in the Journal of the American Medical Association, with analysis on data pooled from the CDC´s National Center for Health Statistics 2010 multiple cause-of-death file; these files are based off of death certificates.

“Patients with mental health or substance use disorders are at increased risk for nonmedical use and overdose from prescription painkillers as well as being prescribed high doses of these drugs,” commented Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, in a prepared statement. “Appropriate screening, identification, and clinical management by health care providers are essential parts of both behavioral health and chronic pain management.”

Based on these findings, there are a number of actions that will be taken by the governments at the local, state, and national levels as well as by non-government organizations to stop overdoses involving prescriptions drugs. The federal government will be working to track prescription drug overdose trends to gain more information on the issue, focusing on increasing education on drug abuse and overdose for the general public and health care providers, as well as developing and promoting programs and policies related to the prevention of prescription drug abuse and prescription drug overdose. In addition, states will work to improve access to substance abuse treatment and encourage state licensing boards to act if there is inappropriate drug prescriptions made.