TUESDAY, Nov. 1 (HealthDay News) -- The number of deaths from prescription drug overdoses has tripled in a decade, hitting a peak of 36,000 fatalities in 2008, U.S. health officials reported Tuesday.
"The unfortunate and shocking news is that we are in the midst of an epidemic of prescription overdose in this country," Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a midday news conference.
Since 1999, there have been significant increases not only in overdose death rates, but in the sales of prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and methadone, and admission for treatment of abuse of these drugs, the CDC said.
"Now there are more peopled killed by prescription narcotics than from heroin and cocaine combined," Frieden said.
In 1999 there were 4,000 deaths related to painkillers, but by 2008 that number had risen by a factor of three, to 15,000 deaths.
By 2010, 12 million Americans said they were using opioid pain relievers without a prescription. In 2009, almost 500,000 emergency room visits were for abuse of these painkillers. This costs health insurance companies as much as $72 billion a year in direct costs, the CDC said in a report titled Vital Sign Report: Prescription Painkiller Overdoses in the U.S.
According to the report, more men than women die of overdoses from prescription painkillers, and the overdose rates are highest among middle-aged adults. Also, people living in rural areas are almost twice as likely to overdose on opioid pain relievers than city residents, the report said.
Among ethnic groups the highest overdose rates are among whites and American Indian or Alaska Natives. An estimated one in 10 American Indians and Alaska Natives abuses opioid pain relievers, compared with one in 20 whites and one in 30 blacks, according to the report.
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