CDC: Painkiller overdose epidemic in U.S.

Nov. 1, 2011 at 8:42 PM
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ATLANTA, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Prescription painkiller overdose is "a silent epidemic," killing more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined, U.S. health officials say.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the death toll from overdoses of prescription painkillers has more than tripled in the past decade.

The CDC analysis said more than 40 people die every day from overdoses involving narcotic pain relievers such as Vicodin, methadone, OxyContin and Opana.

"States, health insurers, healthcare providers and individuals have critical roles to play in the national effort to stop this epidemic of overdoses while we protect patients who need prescriptions to control pain," Frieden said in a statement.

The increased use of prescription painkillers for non-medical reasons -- drugs used without a prescription for the high -- along with growing sales, contributed to the large number of overdoses and deaths, the analysis said.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health said one in 20 people in the United States age 12 and older -- 12 million people -- reported using prescription painkillers non-medically in 2010.

Drug Enforcement Administration data said sales of these drugs to pharmacies and healthcare providers have increased by more than 300 percent since 1999, Frieden said.

"Prescription drug abuse is a silent epidemic that is stealing thousands of lives and tearing apart communities and families across America," Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy, said.

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