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The cure that KILLS: Half of all U.S. overdose deaths are from prescribed medicine

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 25th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

When an American dies from a drug overdose, a new study suggests that it may not always be the usual suspects such as cocaine, heroin of methamphetamine. On the contrary, around half of the 80,000 overdose deaths a year are caused by medication prescribed by general physicians.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - The study also found that the rate of all drug overdoses in the U.S. has more than doubled over the last 10 years.

The National Center for Health Statistics dutifully records all deaths listed on certificates, which they are required by law to include an underlying cause.

By first collating deaths listed as "accidental poisoning," intentional self-poisoning," "assault by drugs" and "poisoning with undetermined intent" and then analyzing the sub-categories, it appears around 50 percent of overdose deaths involve medicines.

High atop the list of deadly prescription medications are opioid analgesics, prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin. Nearly three-quarters of these deaths are attributed to these classes of drugs.

The researchers also found that drugs often prescribed for mental health conditions were involved in a significant number of pharmaceutical overdose deaths. Benzodiazepines, or anti-anxiety drugs) were involved in nearly 30 percent of these deaths; antidepressants in 18 percent, and antipsychotic drugs in six percent.

Deaths involving more than one drug or drug class are counted multiple times and therefore are not mutually exclusive.

"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," CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. says. "Appropriate screening, identification, and clinical management by health care providers are essential parts of both behavioral health and chronic pain management."

The Web site says that while cocaine, heroin and alcohol all warrant their on stripe on the charts involving drug overdose deaths, others like marijuana and LSD barely register at all.

The study notes that the rate of total reported overdoses has more than doubled between 1999 and 2010.

Some subcategories are limited in their detail and many drugs are included in umbrella terms such as "psycho-stimulants".

Around a quarter of all overdose death certificates don't have the toxicity test results listed at all, so they are labeled in the "unspecified" stripe on the graph.

The database doesn't include non-U.S. residents or U.S nationals living abroad.

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