A Tragic Decade for Painkiller Users

Prescription opioid overdose deaths quadrupled in 11 years

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) More and more people have been tragically dying from painkiller overdoses. Healthcare professionals and public health organizations have started to take preventive actions.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that drug overdose deaths more than doubled between 1999 and 2010. In that same time period, prescription painkiller overdoses quadrupled.

The CDC reported that prevention efforts will continue to focus on efforts to reduce prescription abuse. 

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The CDC compiled this report based on data from its National Center for Health Statistics. The data showed a continued increase in deaths from drug overdoses in the United States. 

Every year for the past 11 years, the rate of overdose deaths has increased. The rate more than doubled between 1999 and 2010.

In 1999, there were 16,849 drug overdose deaths in the US. In 2010, a total of 38,329 people died from a drug overdose.

Overdose deaths specifically from opioid analgesics (oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone) quadrupled over the same time period. Opioid analgesic overdoses accounted for 4,030 deaths in 1999, and then 16,651 deaths in 2010.

Prescription painkillers were responsible for 60 percent of all drug overdose deaths in 2010, for a total of 22,134 deaths. Considering 16,651 of those deaths were from opioid analgesics, roughly three out of every four prescription painkiller overdose deaths were from opioid analgesics alone.

Prescription medications for mental health conditions were also involved in many of the overdose deaths. Medications in the benzodiazepine family - such as diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax) and zolpidem (Ambien) - were present in 6,497 overdose deaths. Antidepressants were present in 3,889 (18 percent) overdose deaths and antipsychotic medications were present in 1,351 (6 percent) overdose deaths.

“Patients with mental health or substance use disorders are at increased risk for nonmedical use and overdose from prescription painkillers as well as being prescribed high doses of these drugs. Appropriate screening, identification, and clinical management by health care providers are essential parts of both behavioral health and chronic pain management,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH.

The healthcare industry and government health organizations have started taking steps to better manage prescription opioid abuse. Prescription tracking, patient education, more substance abuse treatment programs and tamper-resistant, extended-release developments by pharmaceutical manufacturers are all in the works to help lower rates of prescription overdose deaths in the US.

This research was published in February in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 21, 2013
Last Updated:
February 23, 2013