No. 1 Cause of Overdose Deaths: Painkillers

Topping heroin, cocaine combined
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 2, 2011 7:22 AM CDT
In this Aug. 5, 2010 file photo, a pharmacy technician poses for a picture with hydrocodone tablets at the Oklahoma Hospital Discount Pharmacy in Edmond, Okla.   (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

(Newser) – Are prescription drugs more dangerous than their illegal counterparts? In 2008, prescription painkiller overdoses outnumbered deaths from heroin and cocaine combined, according to a new CDC report. Of the 36,450 US overdose deaths that year, 14,800 involved opioid painkillers like oxycodone, methadone, or hydrocodone. That’s a significant increase from 1999, when only about 4,000 overdoses were caused by opioids, the Los Angeles Times reports. Some kind of prescription drug was involved in 20,044 of the deaths.

Not surprisingly, sales of opioids also increased fourfold during the same time period. According to the report, by last year, "enough opioid pain relievers were sold to medicate every American adult with a typical dose of 5 mg of hydrocodone every four hours for one month." The CDC also noted that the number of OD deaths in 2008 neared the number of car-crash deaths, which stood at 39,973 for the year.

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