Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found approximately 27,000 unintentional drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in 2007.
The increase in unintentional drug overdose death rates in recent years has been driven by increased use of a class of prescription drugs opioid analgesics, such as Vicodin or OxyContin. Since 2003, more overdose deaths have involved opioid analgesics than heroin and cocaine combined.
In addition, for every unintentional overdose death related to an opioid analgesic, nine people are admitted for substance abuse treatment, 35 visit emergency departments, 161 report drug abuse or dependence and 461 report non-medical uses of opioid analgesics, the researchers say.
Overall, rates of opioid analgesic misuse and overdose death are highest among men ages 20-64, non-Hispanic whites, and poor and rural populations.
The report, published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, said the two main populations in the United States at risk for prescription drug overdose are the approximately 9 million people who report long-term medical use of opioids and the roughly 5 million who report non-medical use -- use without a prescription or medical need -- in the past month, the report said.