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More People Dying From Drug Abuse

December 25, 2010

New research suggests that more and more people are dying from abusing or misusing drugs, including both prescription and illegal drugs.

The study found that deaths from “accidental poisonings” are more than ten times higher than they were in the late 1960s.

Death from accidental poisoning is higher across all age groups more so than it was a few decades ago, especially among white Americans. 

“I went in expecting to see a blip (in increased accidental poisonings) with the baby boomer(s),” Dr. Richard Miech, the study’s lead author and head of Health and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Colorado Denver, told Reuters Health. After all, he said, “you’ve seen pictures of Woodstock.”

Miech said he was surprised the boomer generation’s impact on the death rates was overshadowed by a “huge increase” in accidental poisoning deaths overall.  He attributes this increase to the growing number of prescription drugs being taken in the U.S. by all age groups.

The team analyzed data from the U.S. Census, which counts all people in the country, as well as a register that tracks the number of deaths from different causes each year.

According to an analysis, white men and women were nine times more likely to die from accidental poisoning in 2005 through 2007 than they ere in 1968 and 1969.  Black men and women were about three times more likely to die from the same cause in recent years than they were 40 years ago.

The greatest proportion of overdoses happens in people in their 40s and 50s, which currently includes the tail-end of the baby boom generation.

In 1968, about one in every 100,000 white women in their early 50′s died from accidental poisoning.  In 2007, about 15 out of every 100,000 did the same. 

The study found that deaths from accidental poisonings are significantly higher for almost every age group.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the majority of prescription drug abuse involves painkillers like Vicodin.

Miech said that medications like this have become one of the major drivers behind the increasing deaths.  A 2004 government report said that almost half of all Americans take prescription drugs. 

Theodore Cicero, who studies drug abuse at Washington University in St. Louis, told Reuters that a certain percentage of all prescription drugs that are given to patients will be used for non-medical purposes. 

“Even if it’s a very small percentage, when the number of people (getting prescriptions) grows, obviously you’re going to have more drugs in the illicit market,” he said.

Miech said that it is hard to determine if someone with chronic pain is at risk of abuse or misuse.

Death from prescription painkiller overdose has “been an epidemic in the last ten years,” Dr. Wilson Compton, director of the Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told Reuters Health.

Miech said that “Ultimately, I don’t have any silver bullets to come up with a way to reduce this huge increase” in deaths from accidental poisoning.

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