The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows that overdose deaths by prescription drugs rose for the 11th consecutive year. Many were determined to be painkiller addictions that led to accidental deaths.
The CDC reported in 2010 that a nationwide total of 38,329 drug overdose deaths were recorded and 57 percent of that total was from prescription drugs, up from the previous year. Many people become addicted to painkiller medication and once they become dependent, prescribed medication can be more deadly than illegal narcotics. The number of medication-related overdose deaths was much higher at 22,134.
The report featured in the Tuesday Feb. 19 Journal of the American Medical Association provides details on which drugs have the most fatalities. Drugs that fall under the category of opiates, which are based on the therapeutic use of the opium poppy, were named. Oxycontin and Vicodin were said to have contributed to most deaths, a total of three out of four deaths by overdose. Oxycontin made nationwide headlines in 2009 when it was mentioned as the cause of death of pop superstar Michael Jackson. Reports said that Jackson became addicted to Oxycontin, a drug he was prescibed to use to help him sleep.
"The big picture is that this is a big problem that has gotten much worse quickly," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC. Freiden added that drugs such as Oxycontin and Vicodin are often prescribed to kill pain, but physicians and patients alike don't comprehend how addictive these painkilling drugs can be. Many people take the medications to relieve severe pain and become habitual users.
Valium and Xanax, which are usually prescribed to treat anxiety, account for 30 percent of overdose deaths. A total of 17 percent of the medication-related deaths are suicides.
Data gathered in the reports were from death certificates, making it unclear if the deaths were suicide or accidental. Rich Zane, chair of emergency medicine at the University Of Colorado School Of Medicine, determined that most of the overdoses appeared accidental.
To address this pattern of excessive prescription drug abuse an addiction, federal officials are becoming involved. A federal panel of drug-safety specialists suggested last month that prescription medications, including Vicodin and others, be treated like narcotics and adhere to the same restrictions as the drugs oxycodone and morphine.