Drug Deaths Now Outnumber Traffic Fatalities in U.S.

The above headline comes from the September 17, 2011 edition of the LA Times. The story reports on data recently released from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showing that as of 2009, deaths due to drugs exceeded the number of deaths due to automobile accidents.

The article noted that the increase was fueled by the jump in prescription drug overdoses. The authors wrote, “Public health experts have used the comparison (accident vs. drug deaths) to draw attention to the nation’s growing prescription drug problem, which they characterize as an epidemic.” The data showed that since the government started tracking drug related deaths in 1979, this was the first time that drug deaths have outpaced deaths due to automobile accidents.

The report showed that the surge in drugs leading to deaths were mostly fueled by prescription pain and anxiety drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax and Soma. Laz Salinas, a sheriff’s commander in Santa Barbara, where they have seen a dramatic rise in prescription drug deaths in recent years, commented, “The problem is right here under our noses in our medicine cabinets.”

The article interviewed Lori Smith, a mother who lost her son to an overdose of prescription drugs just six months shy of his 16th birthday. She speculated on what happened by saying, “They said they will have parties where the kids will throw a bunch of pills in a bowl and the kids take them without knowing what they are,” Lori said. “We called all of his friends, but no one would say they were with him. But he must have been with someone. You just don’t do that by yourself.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Opferman, head of a county task force on prescription drug-related crimes explained why he feels prescription drugs are more dangerous than illicit drugs. He explained, “People feel they are safer with prescription drugs because you get them from a pharmacy and they are prescribed by a doctor,” Opferman said. “Younger people believe they are safer because they see their parents taking them. It doesn’t have the same stigma as using street narcotics.”

The article concluded with a statement from Amy S.B. Bohnert, a researcher at the University of Michigan Medical School who is studying ways to lower the risk of prescription drugs. She stated, “What’s really scary is we don’t know a lot about how to reduce prescription deaths.

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