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Painkiller Overdose Deaths Triple

Thursday, 03 Nov 2011 08:56 AM

Deaths due to the abuse of prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin, and methadone have reached epidemic levels in the last 10 years, health officials report.

In 2008, approximately 15,000 people died from painkiller abuse, including the actor Heath Ledger. This represents triple the total of 4,000 who died in 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this week.

The spike in deaths corresponds to a rise in the number of prescriptions issued each year -- enough to provide each person in the U.S. with a one-month supply of narcotic painkillers, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC in Atlanta.

Almost 5 percent of people 12 and older in the U.S. reported abusing painkillers in 2010, the CDC reported, although fatal overdoses were more likely among men, middle-aged adults, whites and American Indians.
Additional findings include that the state with the highest rate of abuse was Oklahoma. The lowest was in Nebraska and Iowa. Prescription painkiller sales, per person, were the highest in Florida.

"America's prescription drug abuse epidemic is not a problem that's going to be solved overnight," said White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske. "But at the same time, we're not powerless."

Kerlikowske urged parents to dispose of unused medications to avoid the potential for abuse.

Dr. Frieden suggested states monitor prescriptions and crack down on "pill mills" and "doctor shopping" by patients. He also urged doctors to limit prescriptions to three days for acute pain.

"For chronic pain," he said, "narcotics should be the last resort."



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