Deaths from prescription drugs reach epidemic levels
Prescription drugs are one of the major causes of death every year, and the problem has reached epidemic proportions, say researchers. The rate – which is higher than motor accident fatalities - is equivalent to a plane crashing every day for six months.
Around 27,500 people died in the US in 2007 from unintentional overdose alone – a loss of life that is 4.6 times greater than the total deaths of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning of both conflicts.
In 20 states of the US, unintentional prescription drug overdose is one of the leading causes of death, say researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The main culprit seems to be the opioid pain relievers – including codeine- or morphine-based drugs such as Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin – which are responsible for more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.
In addition to fatalities, the opioids have been responsible for a doubling in the numbers of patients needing emergency hospital care between the years 2004 and 2008.
Doctors are partly responsible for the deaths, say researchers. They are often prescribing multiple drugs at the same time, including opioids with benzodiapezines, anti-depressants and sleeping aids. These combinations are often found in the bodies of dying patients, says the CDC.
(Source: Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2011; doi: 10.4088/jcp.10com06560).