For the 11th straight year, a record number of Americans have died from a prescription drug overdose, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
While drug overdoses are up in general, a full 60 percent of them now involve prescription medication rather than illicit substances. As Dr. Thomas Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) told the Times, it’s “a big problem that has gotten much worse quickly,” and most of the deaths are accidental rather than suicide:
As in recent years, opioid drugs — which include OxyContin and Vicodin — were the biggest problem, contributing to three out of four medication overdose deaths.
Frieden said that many doctors and patients don’t realize how addictive these drugs can be, and that they’re too often prescribed for pain that can be managed with less risky drugs.
They’re useful for cancer, “but if you’ve got terrible back pain or terrible migraines,” using these addictive drugs can be dangerous, he said.
Medication-related deaths accounted for 22,134 of the drug overdose deaths in 2010.
Antianxiety drugs including Valium were among common causes of medication-related deaths, involved in almost 30 percent of them. Among the medication-related deaths, 17 percent were suicides.
The surge in medication-related deaths has already forced state authorities to take action. For example, the NYPD has begun implanting GPS chips into medicine bottles in order to battle the illegal trafficking and abuse of prescription drugs.
Still, such tracking efforts remain difficult, and the U.S. doesn’t have a very effective system of tracing a drug from its origins to consumers. And according to a recently-released Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report, more than half of prescription drug abusers received their drugs from a family member or friend, making public health efforts to crack down on the abuse all the more difficult.