Rise in Drug Poisoning Deaths Linked to Geographic Patterns
The study, the first to examine prescription drug poisoning deaths at county levels, shows a sharp increase in prescription drug poisoning in both rural and urban counties. The findings come at an important time, when drug poisoning has increased 300 percent in the past 30 years, with nearly 90 percent of deaths by poisoning traced to drugs and prescription drugs making up the majority of drug deaths.
According to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health 2.1 percent of Americans, or 5 million people, misused prescription painkillers during the previous 30 days.
One question the study sought to answer is whether the increased deaths have been higher in rural counties. In order to answer this the researchers used small area estimation techniques on data from the National Vital Statistics Multiple Cause of Death Files. They were able to determine that the rate of drug poisonings for rural areas was 394 percent and 297 percent in urban areas.
There was also a huge jump in annual drug poisoning age adjusted death rates (AADRs) over ten per 100,000, from 3 percent of counties in 1999 to 54 percent of counties by 2008.
There were also trends observed across regions, with increased rates of drug poisoning AADRs in the Appalachians, Hawaii, Alaska and the West Coast, as well as Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma and all of New England.
The study’s findings will be useful in developing strategies to reduce drug poisoning deaths. Education and early intervention efforts may be helped by the geographic mapping of drug-related deaths so that they can accurately target the counties most in need of prevention and intervention efforts.
Far from being a safer alternative to street drugs, prescription drugs are dangerous substances that should only be taken with a valid prescription written by a doctor. Drugs intended to help individuals achieve good health and an improved quality of life is proving to be poison when misused.