For the first time since the government started tracking drug-related deaths in 1979, narcotics have topped traffic fatalities—37,485 for drugs vs. 36,284 for accidents in 2009 (the most recent year available), reports the LA Times. But the big culprit isn't street drugs: it's prescription pills like Xanax, OxyContin, and especially Vicodin, which kill more people than cocaine and heroin combined. "The problem is right here under our noses in our medicine cabinets," says a Santa Barbara sheriff.
While traffic fatalities have dropped by a third since the 1970s, despite people driving much more now, drug deaths have doubled in the last decade—tripled for people ages 50-69—thanks in large part to powerful new drugs and marketing campaigns by Big Pharma. And the deaths cross the spectrum, from seniors accidentally double-dosing to adults who've been to rehab to teenagers casually popping dad's pills. "What's really scary is we don't know a lot about how to reduce prescription deaths," says one researcher. "It's a wonderful medical advancement that we can treat pain, but we haven't figured out the safety belt yet." (Read more pharmaceutical industry stories.)