How Many People Die From Prescription Drugs?

The U.S. faces the worst drug epidemic in history. Prescription medications are at the root of the problem. It’s been estimated that 40% of recent opioid deaths were related to prescription drug use or abuse.

For many decades, health care providers liberally prescribed medications for pain and other problems. They did not think about addiction or overdose as some of the most detrimental effects. And consumers thought it was fine to take pain pills because they were prescribed and came from a trained medical professional.

Many of these people were in pain as a result of surgical procedures, chronic pain or cancer. They needed medicine to help them through. Yet at the time of the largest boom in opioid addiction, which many believed was fueled through the extensive marketing of the drug OxyContin, there was not enough awareness of the impact of these drugs.

Why People Are Dying From Prescription Pills

Here are some of the reason’s people have lost their lives to prescriptions drug abuse:

Drug combinations. The medical community has come to understand the inherent danger of opioid use, but there are still many other medications that can become addictive. These include benzodiazepines as well as stimulants such as Adderall, which is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Used in combination with other prescription drugs they can be deadly. For example, a large number of opioid deaths are due to being combined with benzodiazepines.

Overprescribed medicine. One study says it can take only five days to form a physical addiction to an opioid drug. Other research shows that doctors regularly over-prescribe medicines for pain. Sometime a 15 to 30 day supply was given when only a few days were needed to soothe post-surgical pain. Having the extra medication led some people to take more than needed and get hooked. Dentists were also prescribing opioids for dental pain. The leading dental association put out a call to members to limit prescriptions to address the problem.

Gateway to other drugs. One of the greatest problems with prescription medicine, especially opioids, is it leads to people abusing other drugs. Patients may become addicted to pain medicine and when they can no longer get a prescription they try to buy it on the black market. It has led to a crisis in fentanyl and heroin addiction as both of those drugs are more readily available on the street. But fentanyl is extremely potent and is often cut with other dangerous substances that can lead to death.

Crisis in rural areas. The opioid epidemic has created a crisis in rural America. People on farms and ranches, in small towns and desolate areas have fallen prey to addictive prescription medicines. Many people are isolated and far from doctors and hospitals, making it difficult to get them care in time if they overdose.

Impact on veterans. The opioid epidemic’s effects on veterans have been astronomical. Veterans may begin using the drugs for pain and injuries, but end up abusing it to help manage some of the psychological injuries of war. Post-traumatic stress disorder may be at the root of abuse of opioids and other drugs. A 2011 study by Veterans Affairs found that veterans are twice as likely as non-veterans to die from accidental overdoses on highly addictive painkillers. There is a high level of chronic pain in that community, which has led to this group being routinely over-prescribed medication. In recent years, Veterans Affairs has cut back on opioid prescriptions to combat the problem.

Drugs That Are Causing Overdose Deaths

The National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a clearing house for addiction and overdose statistics. It released some of the following information:

Opioid Pain Relievers. This includes ICD-10 prescription opioids (natural and semisynthetic) such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, methadone and other synthetic narcotics. Overall deaths in this category increased by 20% from 2014 to 2015.

  • Total deaths: 22,598
  • Female: 8,786
  • Male: 13,812

Opioid Pain Relievers (other than synthetic opioids). The ICD-10 code for hydrocodone and oxycodone are also counted in this total, so there is overlap. Overall deaths in this category increased by 4% from 2014 to 2015.

  • Total deaths: 17,536
  • Female: 7,429
  • Male: 10,107

Benzodiazepines. This category includes three of the most frequently prescribed and abused benzos: Valium (diazepam), Ativan (lorazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam), as well as nearly 20 others such as Klonopin (clonazepam). Overall deaths in this category increased by 11% from 2014 to 2015. More than 7,000 of the benzodiazepine deaths in 2015 involved opioids.

  • Total deaths: 8,791
  • Female: 3,779
  • Male: 5,012

Most Common Prescription Drug-Related Overdose Deaths: 2014

Prescription drugs were responsible for five of the top 10 drug-related overdose deaths in 2014. Below are the number of deaths followed by the percentage of total drug overdose deaths, and additional statistics regarding concurrent substance use deaths.

  • Oxycodone: 5,417, 11.5%
  • Alprazolam: 4,217, 9.0%
  • Methadone: 3,495, 7.4%
  • Hydrocodone: 3,274, 7.0%
  • Diazepam: 1,729, 3.7%

It is nearly impossible to read a newspaper or tune into a television or radio broadcast without hearing about the opioid epidemic gripping America. From teens dying of heroin overdoses to older people accidentally overdosing on prescription medications, we are indeed in the midst of a public health crisis.

Prescription Drug Poisoning in Children: Accidental & Intentional

Children are also at severe risk for drug overdoses. It’s estimated that 160 kids end up in an emergency room each day due to accidentally taking medication. It occurs when adults leave medicine out in the open. Sometimes children fish around in a diaper bag or purse and think the medicine is candy. More than 22,000 children were treated at U.S. emergency departments for opioid poisoning between 2006 and 2012.

If you or someone you know is abusing prescription drugs, help is a phone call away at 844-876-5568.

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