Fatal drug overdoses rose for the 11th straight year, federal data show, and most of them were accidents involving addictive painkillers despite growing attention to their risks. "The big picture is that this is a big problem that has gotten much worse quickly," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the CDC. In 2010, the CDC reported, there were 38,329 drug overdose deaths nationwide. Medicines, mostly prescription drugs, were involved in nearly 60% of overdose deaths that year, overshadowing deaths from illicit narcotics.
As in previous recent years, opioid drugs—which include OxyContin and Vicodin—were the biggest problem, contributing to three of four medication overdose deaths. Frieden said 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. Anti-anxiety drugs including Valium were among common causes of medication-related deaths, involved in almost 30% of them. (Read more drugs stories.)