Drug Overdose Now Leading Cause of Injury-Related Deaths

A report published in June 2015, by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation noted that over 44,000 death occur each year in the United States due to drug overdoses. Of this, more than half are due to prescription drugs. The study shows that over the past 4 years, 26 states showed a significant increase in the rate of drug overdose deaths, while only six states showed a small decrease.

The report titled, “The Facts Hurt” A State by State Injury Prevention Policy Report 2015,” looked at deaths from all forms of injury and accidents including drug overdose. It showed that on a national level, the number of drug overdose deaths, 44,000, has overtaken the number of automobile accident deaths which has dropped to 33,000 per year.

The report points out, “There are 120 drug overdoses a day and 6,700 emergency department visits for misuse or abuse of drugs. More than 22,000 overdose deaths involve prescription drugs, which have sharply increased in the past 15 years.”

One of the more alarming statistics the report brings to light is the number of children affected by this problem, “Children visit emergency departments twice as often for taking medications found in the home –– than for poisonings from household products. More than 70,000 children go to the emergency department due to medication poisoning every year. Most of these visits were because an unsupervised child found and consumed the medication—usually a prescription medication.”

In reporting on the scale of the drug issue, the report notes that about 2 million Americans abuse or misuse prescription drugs. Prescription drugs account for more than 22,700 deaths each year, with 16,000 of these being due to prescription painkillers and nearly 7,000 being due to anti-anxiety, sleep and other related medications. The costs related to this are approximately $55.7 billion a year.

The report states, “Around 1.4 million emergency department visits in 2011 were due to prescription drug misuse or abuse, including 420,000 due to prescription painkillers and 501,000 due to anti-anxiety, sleep and other related medications.” Some additional startling facts released in this report include:

  • Sales of prescription painkillers per capita quadrupled from 1999 to 2011 — and the number of fatal poisonings due to prescription pain medications nearly quadrupled.
  • Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult continually for a month. The rate of opioid/painkiller-related deaths continues to increase.
  • The rate of increase has slowed from 2006 to 2011, but overall drug poisoning deaths continues to steadily rise.
  • Emergency department visits for prescription drug misuse and abuse more than doubled between 2004 and 2011. The most commonly involved drugs were anti-anxiety and insomnia medications, and prescription painkillers.

A June 18, 2015, article in USA Today on this study quoted Amber Williams, executive director of Safe States Alliance, an organization of experts who work on injury and violence prevention nationwide. “Over 10 years, the opioid prescriptions have quadrupled, but there’s not a change in the overall pain that Americans had in that same period.” She continued, “There’s definitely a mismatch between the prescriptions and the health issues because the issues have remained the same.”

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