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Fatal drug overdoses in U.S. increase for 11th consecutive year

February 19, 2013|By Joseph Serna
  • In 2010, 38,329 people died of drug overdoses in the United States, an uptick from the previous year and the latest sign of a deadly trend involving prescription painkillers.
In 2010, 38,329 people died of drug overdoses in the United States, an uptick… (Chris Hondros )

Fatal drug overdoses have increased for the 11th consecutive year in the United States, new data show.

According to a research letter published Tuesday from the National Center for Health Statistics, 38,329 people died of drug overdoses in the United States in 2010, an uptick from the previous year and the latest sign of a deadly trend involving prescription painkillers.

In 2010, 57% of overdoses, or more than 22,000, involved known prescription drugs. Three-quarters of those involved painkillers like Oxycontin and Percocet while another 9,400 involved some unidentified drug cocktail.

More than 74% of all prescription drug deaths were accidental, statistics show. Only 17% of overdoses were suicides. The numbers show how drugs in the opioid family, like Oxycontin, methadone and codeine, were often implicated in fatal drug cocktails.

An opioid was found in 77% of overdoses that involved benzodiazepine, a central nervous system depressant like Valium, Xanax or Ativan. The addictive narcotic was also involved in 65% of overdoses with antiepileptic or anti-Parkinsonian drugs; 57% of overdoses with antidepressants; and 56% of overdoses with anti-inflammatory and fever-reducing drugs.

The paper buttresses a Times investigation last year that showed a surge in painkiller prescriptions in California and across the nation has had fatal consequences.

Fatal prescription drug overdoses over the last decade have outnumbered deaths from heroin and cocaine combined, The Times reported. In nearly half of all accidental prescription drug deaths in Southern California, the deceased had a prescription for at least one of the drugs involved in the overdose.

The study was published in the American Medical Assn. journal and was written by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which funded the study.

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