Number of Prescription Painkiller Deaths More Than Tripled in Last 10 Years

The number of Americans who died from overdoses of prescription painkillers more than tripled in the past decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More people now die from painkillers than from heroin and cocaine combined.

An estimated 14,800 people died in the United States from painkiller overdoses in 2008, a more than threefold jump from the 4,000 deaths recorded in 1999, the CDC said in a new report.

Prescription and illegal drugs caused 36,450 deaths in 2008, compared with 39,973 deaths from motor vehicle crashes, according to the Associated Press.

The CDC said painkiller abuse and deaths are rising because the drugs are easier than ever to obtain. They cited the growth of “pill mills,” clinics that prescribe opioids without first conducting medical exams, and “doctor shopping,” or receiving multiple prescriptions from different doctors.

According to the CDC, enough painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around the clock for a month. “Right now, the system is awash in opioids—dangerous drugs that got people hooked and keep them hooked,” said CDC Director Thomas Frieden.

“Prescription drug abuse is a silent epidemic that is stealing thousands of lives and tearing apart communities and families across America,” Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy, said in a CDC news release. He noted health care providers and patients should be educated on the risks of prescription painkillers. “Parents and grandparents should properly dispose of any unneeded or expired medications from the home and to talk to their kids about the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs,” he noted.

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    November 4, 2011 at 8:52 PM

    Actually, the first part of Allison’s message is the important part. The effort to scare the population into a panic about painkilling drugs is nothing more than a deflection from the government’s complete failure to accomplish anything positive in the “war on drugs.” If you analyze the actual facts instead of the propaganda, most of the prescription drug ODs are from drugs obtained illegally, and often mixed with street drugs, alcohol or medications. The problem is not one of prescription drug supply–it is a public health problem of education, and treatment. Trying to scare people with campaigns that vilify the drugs themselves (or illegal sources of supply) is just misdirection. Next we’ll hear that we need tighter controls on sugar because diabetes rates have skyrocketed in the last 20 years. This is the worst kind of fear-mongering and has no place in reasoned debate.

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    November 2, 2011 at 5:44 PM

    This is undoubtedly an important message. Despite the extensive availability, there are so many people who need these medications who cannot access them due to the liability perceived (and realized) by physicians. Like so many things, it has to be strictly managed because a few people have chosen to be irresponsible.

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