Health and Welfare
Drug Overdose Deaths Hit New Record in 2011
Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. rose for the 11th straight year and accidental deaths involving addictive prescription drugs overshadow deaths from illicit narcotics, new federal data show. In 2010, there were 38,329 drug overdose deaths nationwide, and prescription drugs were the cause of nearly 60 percent of them. As in recent years, opioid drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin were the biggest problem, contributing to three-fourths of medication-overdose deaths, report Lindsey Tanner and Mike Stoppe of The Associated Press.
Anti-anxiety drugs including Valium were involved in almost 30 percent of medication-related deaths. Most were unintentional overdoses; 17 percent were rules suicides. The data were reported Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In Kentucky, drug abuse is epidemic and more than 1,000 Kentuckians a year die from prescription-drug overdoses, more than the number who die in car accidents, according to a 2012 Kentucky Justice & Public Safety Cabinet report. About 85 percent of Kentucky's drug-related deaths were accidental and approximately 2 percent were suicides, according to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
The number of drug-overdose deaths in Kentucky rose a staggering 296 percent from 2000 to 2010. In 2010, the record number of deaths reflected the national trend and also involved opioid painkillers, according to a study by the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center. The highest rates of overdose deaths during the study period were concentrated in Eastern Kentucky and among men, reports Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Many doctors and patients don't realize how addictive these prescription drugs can be, and that they're too often prescribed for pain that can be managed with less risky drugs, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the CDC. He said the data show a need for more prescription drug monitoring programs at the state level, and more laws shutting down "pill mills" -- doctor offices and pharmacies that over-prescribe addictive medicines, AP reports.
That was the aim of House Bill 1, passed in last year's legislative session. T he Kentucky All-Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER) system has undergone several changes since the bill's passage to help crack down on so-called pill mills.
Last month, a federal panel of drug safety specialists recommended that Vicodin and dozens of other medicines be placed in a more restrictive drug category, which would make them harder to prescribe. Refills wouldn't be allowed without a new prescription, and faxed or called-in prescriptions wouldn't be accepted; only a handwritten prescription from a doctor would be allowed.