Drug Overdose Deaths Surpass Gun and Alcohol Deaths: Study

A new government report, which indicates that drug-induced deaths are now more common than gun or alcohol-related deaths, suggests that the recent increases in drug overdoses since 2003 may be tied to the increased availability and abuse of prescription drugs like OxyContin.  

On January 14, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on drug-induced deaths from 2003 to 2007. Except for 2007, which saw a slight decline, the numbers have steadily increased upwards from previous years.

In 2007, there were 38,371 drug overdose deaths reported in the U.S and drug-induced deaths were more prevalent than gun or alcohol-related deaths.

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CDC researchers analyzed data from the National Vital Statistics System and compared data on the basis of gender, race and ethnicity. They found that the rate of death for males from drug overdoses consistently exceeded the rate of deaths among females. They also found that the abuse of prescription drugs had a major effect on who is most likely to die from a drug overdose.

In the 1980s and 1990s, more blacks died of drug overdose, due to the abuse of illicit drugs, than any other racial group. That changed in 2002 and now more whites die of drug overdose per year than blacks.

“This change occurred as prescription drugs, especially prescription opioid painkillers and psychotherapeutic drugs, were prescribed more widely by physicians,” the researchers determined. Minorities are less likely to use prescription drugs and therefore might be less likely to misuse them.

Last summer, an FDA advisory panel determined that stringent measures needed to be put in place to address the increasing misuse and abuse of painkillers and narcotics. The panel of outside experts voted 25 to 10 against a plan developed by the FDA and drug makers to reduce the abuse of drugs like OxyContin and fentanyl. The panel members criticized the plan for not requiring mandatory training on prescribing the narcotics.

The FDA proposed to educate doctors on proper dosage and on ferreting out patients likely to misuse the drugs, as well as monitoring their ongoing pain management for signs of abuse and other problems. The agency also planned to educate patients in how to safely use, store and dispose of the powerful painkillers.

However, the advisory panel felt that the plans do not go far enough because they do not make training mandatory for prescribers. While the agency itself cannot make such training a requirement of doctors, the FDA can force drug makers to make training mandatory for doctors to prescribe their products. Although the FDA is not required to act on the panel’s recommendations, it usually does.

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