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CDC Report: Opioids Drive Continued Increase in Drug Overdose Deaths

Deaths increase for 11th consecutive year (Feb. 20)

Drug overdose deaths increased for the 11th consecutive year in 2010, according to an analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The new findings were published in JAMA.

The analysis shows that 38,329 people died from a drug overdose in the U.S. 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 to 16,651 in 2010.

In 2010, nearly 60% of the drug overdose deaths (22,134) involved pharmaceutical drugs, according to the CDC. Opioid analgesics — such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone — were involved in approximately three of every four pharmaceutical overdose deaths (16,651), confirming the predominant role that opioid analgesics play in these deaths.

The researchers analyzed data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics 2010 multiple cause-of-death file, which is based on death certificates.

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% (6,497) of these deaths; antidepressants in 18% (3,889); and antipsychotic drugs in 6% (1,351). Deaths involving more than one drug or drug class were counted multiple times and therefore were not mutually exclusive.

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

Additional steps are being taken at the national, state and local levels, as well as by non-governmental organizations, to help prevent overdoses from prescription drugs, according to the CDC.

In particular, the federal government is:

  • Tracking prescription drug overdose trends to better understand the epidemic.
  • Encouraging the development of abuse-deterrent opioid formulations and of products that treat abuse and overdose.
  • Educating health care providers and the public about prescription drug abuse and overdose.
  • Requiring that manufacturers of extended-release and long-acting opioids make educational programs available to prescribers about 1) understanding the risks and benefits of opioid therapy; 2) choosing patients appropriately; 3) managing and monitoring patients; and 4) counseling patients on the safe use of these drugs.
  • Using opioid labeling as a tool to inform prescribers and patients about the approved uses of these medications.
  • Developing, evaluating, and promoting programs and policies that have been shown to prevent prescription drug abuse and overdose, while making sure patients have access to safe, effective pain treatment.

Source: CDC; February 20, 2013.

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