Research Letter: Deaths From Overdoses Up For 11th Straight Year.

A research letter indicating that drug overdose deaths are still on the rise in the US garnered moderate coverage, mostly online, as well as on one of last night’s national news broadcasts. Many articles point to the continued role opioids have had in this trend.

ABC World News (2/19, story 6, 0:30, Sawyer) reported, “Today, we learned that for the 11th straight year, the number of deaths due to drug overdoses went up.”

The Los Angeles Times (2/20, Serna) “Booster Shots” blog reports, “According to a research letter…from the National Center for Health Statistics” published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “38,329 people died of drug overdoses in the United States in 2010, an uptick from the previous year and the latest sign of a deadly trend involving prescription painkillers.” About three-quarters “of all prescription drug deaths were accidental, statistics show.” Just “17% of overdoses were suicides.”

The AP (2/20, Tanner, Stobbe) reports that according to Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The big picture is that this is a big problem that has gotten much worse quickly.” As was the case “in previous recent years, opioid drugs – which include OxyContin [oxycodone] and Vicodin [acetaminophen and hydrocodone] – were the biggest problem, contributing to 3 out of 4 medication overdose deaths.” The AP adds, “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.”

In a very brief article, the New York Times (2/20, Tavernise, Subscription Publication) reports, “Prescription drugs were involved in more than half of all overdoses, with 22,134 deaths from them.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (2/20, Fauber) reports, “In addition to the overdose deaths, there were 425,000 emergency department visits for misuse or abuse of opioids, including overdoses, up from 166,338 in 2004, said Chris Jones, a CDC researcher and lead author of the paper.” The fatalities “and emergency room visits follow a fourfold increase in opioid sales since 1999, Jones noted.”

MedPage Today (2/20, Fiore) reports, “Antidepressants were involved in 13.4% of prescription opioid-related deaths, followed by anti-epileptic and anti-parkinsonism drugs at 6.8%, and antipsychotics and neuroleptics at 4.7%.” According to the researchers, the report “confirms the predominant role opioid analgesics play in pharmaceutical overdose deaths, either alone or in combination with other drugs,” but also “highlights the frequent involvement of drugs typically prescribed for mental health conditions, such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and antipsychotics in overdose deaths.”

Medscape (2/20) reports that the researchers “also note that individuals with mental illness ‘are at increased risk for heavy therapeutic use, nonmedical use, and overdose of opioids.'”

Related Links:

— “Fatal drug overdoses in U.S. increase for 11th consecutive year,”Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times, February 19, 2013.

Posted in In The News.