The question required clarification before answering it. Did he mean the fastest killers, or the most painful drug poisons, or did he want to know something else?
I realized that this person wanted to know hard facts. I could speculate that the answer was illegal street drugs, but I needed to research the subject before making any statements that could not be backed up with published data. What I discovered surprised even me.
Statistics indicate that overdose deaths from prescription painkillers are far greater than any other category of drug deaths—so much so that the statistics for deaths from prescription painkillers exceed those of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine combined.
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) found that nearly 40 Americans die each day (almost 15,000/yr) from overdoses of prescription painkillers (drugs such as Vicodin and OxyContin).
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC stated, “We are in the midst of an epidemic of prescription narcotic overdoses.” And it seems that the problem has gotten worse over the years. There has been a three-fold increase in deaths from narcotic painkillers over the past decade alone.
In April of this year, Popular Science published an article on that very subject. Accompanying it was an interesting graph depicting the number of deaths per 100,000 people from various drugs (including prescription drugs, street drugs and alcohol). The top two spots for the highest number of deaths per 100,000 were narcotic painkillers and psycho-pharmaceuticals, with heroin and cocaine being farther down the list.
Interestingly, marijuana was not even on the list. The US Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) indicates that there have been no credible deaths reported from cannabis alone, although we can speculate that there are a number of auto collision deaths that might result from cannabis abuse.
Similarly, the chart represents all deaths in the CDC database under the categories accidental poisoning, intentional self-poisoning, assault by drugs and poisoning with undetermined intent, but does not account for deaths related to drug interactions involving combinations of drugs—often deadly combinations, such as the Houston Cocktail of Vicodin, Flexeril and Xanax. I’ll save that discussion of killer drug combinations for another blog.
What the analysis does show is a doubling of deaths from narcotic overdoses between 1999 and 2010, and approximately 70% of those deaths are listed as “unintentional”—translate that as “accidental overdoses”.
Solutions to this growing problem are not simple. A greater reliance on medication use in modern society has given the average person a complacent attitude regarding prescription drugs, and the “immediate fix” of the modern psyche allows for greater use of prescription pain relievers as alternatives to more time-consuming or more costly measures (such as physical therapy, exercise and invasive medical procedures).
Prescription pain relief comes with its own detrimental cost. As we continue the fight against illegal street drugs, we must also inform the public about the improper use of legal prescription drugs, the additive nature of many pain relievers and the diversion of prescription narcotics for recreational drug use.
Listen to your healthcare professional as he/she prescribes or dispenses these medications and read the accompanying literature provided when the drug is purchased. A little education can go a long way toward keeping you from becoming yet another statistic on a chart.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!