Prescription painkiller death epidemic continues

Posted
by Eric Pearson

According to the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”), in 2009, for the first time in history, drug deaths in America outnumbered traffic fatalities. That year, there were more than 36,000 drug poisoning deaths, a 90% increase from 10 years earlier. This incredible surge in drug deaths was led by a huge increase in the number of deaths caused by prescription painkillers, from 4000 in 1999 to nearly 15,000 in 2009.

Among the leading drugs that have been found to cause the most prescription drug deaths are:

  • Opioids — Drugs that are used for pain relief, including:
  • Benzodiazepines — Central nervous system depressants used to induce sleep and treat anxiety, including:
    • Alprazolam (Xanax);
    • Diazepam (Valium).
  • Amphetamines — Central nervous system stimulants used to treat ADHD and similar disorders, including:
    • Adderal;
    • Ridalin;
    • Concentra.

The rise in prescription drug deaths has been caused in large part by an enormous increase in the number of painkiller prescriptions written by doctors each year. From 1999 to the present, there has been a 300% increase in the prescription and sale of opiod painkillers. These drugs now account for more deaths each year than cocaine and heroine combined.

Many doctors over-prescribe these powerful painkillers, prescribe them in dosages that are too high or prescribe them with other drugs that can cause dangerous drug interactions. While there are pain specialists who are trained to prescribe these powerful drugs, according to the CDC, most prescription painkillers are prescribed by primary care and internal medicine doctors. Remarkably, roughly 20% of prescribers prescribe more than 80% of all prescription painkillers. Those patients most at risk for a prescription drug overdose include those that are:

  • Receiving prescription drugs from more than one doctor
  • On high doses of prescription drugs
  • Vulnerable to overuse of drugs due to mental or psychological issues

Opioid over-prescription has become a growing concern in the U.S., with patients experiencing addiction, lifelong disabilities, and death. According to a recent New York Times profile, legislatures in Washington and other states have begun to crack down on these practices, crafting strict laws designed to prevent patients from receiving an over-prescription of painkillers. The Food and Drug Administration has also issued new regulations on high potency prescription pain medications, requiring the drug companies that market these drugs to train physicians and nurses on how to administer them safely.

The number of fatal drug overdoses varies widely from state to state, depending largely on the number of opioid prescriptions written by local doctors. Among the states with the highest rate are:

  • Florida
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia

If a loved one died from an accidental prescription drug overdose, you may be able to obtain compensation from the doctor who prescribed the drugs. The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have handled dozens of lawsuits involving medical malpractice related to painkiller prescriptions, and are available for a free legal consultation about your case. To find out if you are eligible, call us toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or fill out our free online case evaluation form, and one of our representatives will contact you for more information.