CDC: Prescription Pain Killer Deaths Now Greater Than Heroin and Cocaine Combined
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According to the Center for Disease Control, deaths from prescription painkillers have reached epidemic levels in the past decade. The number of overdose deaths is now greater than those of deaths from heroin and cocaine combined. A big part of the problem is nonmedical use of prescription painkillers—using drugs without a prescription, or using drugs just for the “high” they cause. In 2010, about 12 million Americans (age 12 or older) reported nonmedical use of prescription painkillers in the past year.
Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month. Although most of these pills were prescribed for a medical purpose, many ended up in the hands of people who misused or abused them.
Improving the way prescription painkillers are prescribed can reduce the number of people who misuse, abuse or overdose from these powerful drugs, while making sure patients have access to safe, effective treatment, the CDC said.
Prescription painkiller overdoses are a public health epidemic.
- Prescription painkiller overdoses killed nearly 15,000 people in the US in 2008. This is more than 3 times the 4,000 people killed by these drugs in 1999.
- In 2010, about 12 million Americans (age 12 or older) reported nonmedical use of prescription painkillers in the past year.
- Nearly half a million emergency department visits in 2009 were due to people misusing or abusing prescription painkillers.
- Nonmedical use of prescription painkillers costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion annually in direct health care costs.
Certain groups are more likely to abuse or overdose on prescription painkillers.
- Many more men than women die of overdoses from prescription painkillers.
- Middle-aged adults have the highest prescription painkiller overdose rates.
- People in rural counties are nearly twice as likely to overdose on prescription painkillers as people in big cities.
- Whites and American Indian or Alaska Natives are more likely to overdose on prescription painkillers
- About 1 in 10 American Indian or Alaska Natives aged 12 or older used prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons in the past year, compared to 1 in 20 whites and 1 in 30 blacks.
The supply of prescription painkillers is larger than ever.
- The quantity of prescription painkillers sold to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors’ offices was 4 times larger in 2010 than in 1999.
- Many states report problems with “pill mills” where doctors prescribe large quantities of painkillers to people who don’t need them medically. Some people also obtain prescriptions from multiple prescribers by “doctor shopping.”
Some states have a bigger problem with prescription painkillers than others.
- Prescription painkiller sales per person were more than 3 times higher in Florida, which has the highest rate, than in Illinois, which has the lowest.
- In 2008/2009, nonmedical use of painkillers in the past year ranged from 1 in 12 people (age 12 or older) in Oklahoma to 1 in 30 in Nebraska.
- States with higher sales per person and more nonmedical use of prescription painkillers tend to have more deaths from drug overdoses.
Who’s At Risk?
Rates of prescription painkiller sales, deaths and substance abuse treatment admissions (1999-2010)
SOURCES: National Vital Statistics System, 1999-2008; Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS) of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 1999-2010; Treatment Episode Data Set, 1999-2009
U.S. State Info
Amount of prescription painkillers sold by state per 10,000 people (2010)
SOURCE: Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS) of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 2010
Drug overdose death rates by state per 100,000 people (2008)
SOURCE: National Vital Statistics System, 2008
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