Drug-related deaths outnumbered motor vehicle related fatalities in 2009, according to reports published Sunday by the Associated Press (AP) and the Los Angeles Times.
The AP, citing “preliminary” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics, shows that there were 37,485 drug-related fatalities that year.
The Times noted that there were 36,284 traffic-related deaths in 2009, and that drug-induced deaths had also surpassed motor vehicle related ones in 23 states and Washington D.C.
“While most major causes of preventable death are declining, drugs are an exception,” Lisa Girion, Scott Glover and Doug Smith reported on Saturday. “The death toll has doubled in the last decade, now claiming a life every 14 minutes. By contrast, traffic accidents have been dropping for decades because of huge investments in auto safety.”
“Public health experts have used the comparison to draw attention to the nation’s growing prescription drug problem, which they characterize as an epidemic,” they added. “This is the first time that drugs have accounted for more fatalities than traffic accidents since the government started tracking drug-induced deaths in 1979.”
The reason for the increase, according to the trio of Times reporters, is the abuse of increasingly potent and addictive prescription pain and anxiety medication, especially when used in combination with other substances.
Among the most commonly abused drugs are OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax and Soma, say Girion, Glover, and Smith.
“Such drugs now cause more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined,” they claim.
According to the Daily Mail, the CDC statistics researched by the Times showed that deaths tied to drugs such as OxyContin, Valium and Xanax had doubled over a 10 year span. Meanwhile, car deaths had fallen, most likely due to “interest and investments into car safety.”
The study came on the heels of a new study, published recently in The Journal of Pediatrics, which found that the number of children needing emergency medical attention following accidental prescription drug overdose was on the rise.
From 2001 to 2008, doctors at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center observed a 30% increase in such cases, mostly due to the youngsters themselves gaining access to prescription painkillers, diabetes medication, and pills designed to lower blood pressure.
University of Western Ontario pediatrician and pharmacology researcher Dr. Michael Rieder told the UK newspaper that the results of the study were “a bit alarming“¦ I think people have been under the assumption that the rate of poisoning [in children] is fairly stable. Our assumption is wrong.”
“The big thing to take away from this is we need to do a better job of keeping children and medicines away from each other in the home,” added Dr. Eric Lavonas, from the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver. Neither Rieder nor Lavonas participated in the Cincinnati study.
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