Prescription drugs killing more Americans than ever
A new study confirms that prescription drugs are becoming the most widely abused--and most deadly--substance for Americans.
Research at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that the rate of drug overdoses from prescription opioids increased seven-fold in New York City over the course of 16 years, from 1990 to 2006. The study is one of the most comprehensive projects to analyze how opioid use is affecting urban populations.
The overdose problem
Until the last few decades, heroin was the leading cause of opioid-related deaths, so the researchers used data from the city's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to determine how opioid deaths differed from heroin deaths.
The rate of pain killer-related overdoses was seven times higher in 2006 than it was in 1990, while heroin overdoses declined.
Researchers note that many people may perceive that opioids are much safer than other drugs, but that statistics show an alarming trend of a downward spiral into danger--especially for white people.
A race issue?
The study found that whites were more likely to overdose on opioids than blacks or Hispanics, and deaths were limited mostly to neighborhoods with high income disparities and low rates of poverty.
Magdalena Cerdá, Dr.P.H., assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and the lead author on the study, explains: “A possible reason for the concentration of fatalities among whites is that this group is more likely to have access to a doctor who can write prescriptions."
But, Cerdá notes, most people who become addicted to opioid drugs do so illegally--without a prescription.
Fatalities among white people using methadone also increased about nine-fold, which the authors suggest may have to do with methadone now being used as a pain-management drug, not just a heroin-addiction therapy.
According to Psych Central, prescription drug overdoses exceeded the number of suicides in 2006 and exceeded auto-related deaths in 2009.
More information about the study can be found in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Source: Psych Central