Recent CDC Study Shows Increase in Overdose Deaths

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by Eric Pearson

On February 20, 2013, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) released their latest report on the growing epidemic of opioid overdose deaths. According to the report, published in a research letter, “Pharmaceutical Overdose Deaths, United States, 2010,” in the Journal of the American Medical Association, drug overdose deaths increased for the 11th consecutive year in 2010.

CDC’s analysis shows that 38,329 people died from a drug overdose in the United States in 2010, up from 37,004 deaths in 2009. This continues the steady rise in overdose deaths seen over the past 11 years, starting with 16,849 deaths in 1999. Overdose deaths involving opioid analgesics have shown a similar increase; starting with 4,030 deaths in 1999, the number of deaths increased to 15,597 in 2009 and 16,651 in 2010.

Most startling, in 2010, nearly 60 percent of the drug overdose deaths (22,134) involved pharmaceutical prescription drugs. Opioid analgesics, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone, were involved in about 3 of every 4 pharmaceutical overdose deaths (16,651), confirming the predominant role opioid analgesics play in drug overdose deaths. The researchers also found that drugs often prescribed for mental health conditions were involved in a significant number of pharmaceutical overdose deaths. Benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety drugs) were involved in nearly 30 percent (6,497) of these deaths; antidepressants in 18 percent (3,889), and antipsychotic drugs in 6 percent (1,351).

“Patients with mental health or substance use disorders are at increased risk for non-medical use and overdose from prescription painkillers as well as being prescribed high doses of these drugs,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Appropriate screening, identification, and clinical management by health care providers are essential parts of both behavioral health and chronic pain management.”

Unfortunately, all too often, 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.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson fighting for patient safety

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson are among the nation’s leaders in handling cases involving potent opioids, and our law firm has the experience to prosecute medical malpractice cases involving a wide array of serious opioid painkillers, including Vicodin and hydrocodone, OxyContin and oxycodone, methadone, hydromorphone, Fentanyl, and others. If a loved one died from an accidental prescription drug overdose, you may be entitled to compensation from the prescribing doctor.

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.