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Prescription Painkiller Overdoses at Epidemic Levels

More than 40 people die every day from overdoses involving narcotic pain relievers, a number that has more than tripled in the past decade, according to the CDC, which is proposing six ways states can help.

The increased use of prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons, along with growing sales, has contributed to the large number of overdoses and deaths, CDC officials say. In 2010, 1 in every 20 people in the United States age 12 and older — a total of 12 million people — reported using prescription painkillers nonmedically, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Based on the data from the Drug Enforcement Administration, sales of these drugs to pharmacies and healthcare providers have increased by more than 300 percent since 1999.

For the analysis, CDC reviewed state data on fatal drug overdoses, nonmedical use of prescription painkillers, and sales of prescription painkillers to pharmacies and healthcare providers. The study found:

  • State death rates from overdoses (from 2008 data) ranged from a high of 27.0 deaths per 100,000 people in New Mexico to a low of 5.5 deaths per 100,000 people in Nebraska.
  • Nonmedical use of prescription painkillers ranged from a high of 1 in 12 people aged 12 and older in Oklahoma to a low of 1 in 30 in Nebraska.
  • Prescription painkiller sales per person were more than three times higher in the highest state, Florida, than in the lowest state, Illinois.

While national strategies are being strengthened, states, as regulators of healthcare practice and large public insurers, can take the following steps to help prevent overdoses from prescription painkillers:

  • Start or improve prescription drug monitoring programs, which are electronic databases that track all prescriptions for painkillers in the state.
  • Use prescription drug monitoring programs, public insurance programs, and workers’ compensation data to identify improper prescribing of painkillers.
  • Set up programs for public insurance programs, workers’ compensation programs, and state–run health plans that identify and address improper patient use of painkillers.
  • Pass, enforce and evaluate pill mill, doctor shopping and other state laws to reduce prescription painkiller abuse.
  • Encourage professional state licensing boards to take action against inappropriate prescribing.
  • Increase access to substance abuse treatment.


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Source: CDC, November 1, 2011


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