More Drug Deaths in US than Vehicular Fatalities

September 27, 2011


Drug abuse is swiftly rising toward the top of the list of preventable causes of death in the U.S., and street drugs are not the problem. Findings from a 2009 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study concluded that there were a minimum of 37,485 drug-related deaths in 2009, compared to 36,284 deaths due to traffic accidents. Though the difference in numbers may not seem that large, the trend is alarming because it was the first time the number of drug-induced deaths had ever surpassed the number of traffic fatalities since 1979 when the recording of these statistics began.


Drug abuse

Drug abuse


Deaths from traffic accidents have been steadily decreasing largely in thanks to improvements in auto safety. In fact, most preventable deaths in the U.S. are on the decline, but sadly, drug-related losses are steadily increasing – doubling from 2001 to 2011. The abuse of powerful prescription medications is to blame. According to the CDC, pain and anxiety drugs are directly responsible for more fatalities than cocaine and heroin combined. The epidemic of drug use in the U.S. can no longer be blamed on gritty streets full of strung-out addicts; it is as near as our medicine cabinet. Take a look at these statistics on drug use and addiction in the U.S.:



• It’s estimated that there is a drug-related death every 14 minutes.
• Prescriptions of the narcotic Hydrocone/Vicodin outnumber those of the best-selling cholesterol-lowering medications.
• Drug-related fatalities tripled among those aged 50 to 59 from 2000 to 2008.
• The highest rate of prescription drug-related fatalities occurs among people in their 40s.
• Between 2007 and 2009, the state of California saw a 43% increase in prescriptions for painkillers.
• Since 1998, the number of people seeking drug treatment for prescription drug abuse has increased more than 400%.



Xanax, Soma, Vicodin and Oxycontin are among the most commonly abused medications. These drugs are not only powerful, but are powerfully addictive. Addiction and accidental overdose are major risks as users abuse prescription drugs recreationally and build up a tolerance level against their effectiveness. Overdose among the elderly is also a concern. If elderly patients accidentally double up on these potent medications, it can lead to worsening health issues or even death.

Tragically, accidental poisoning among children is also on the rise according to a study by The Journal of Pediatrics, prompting the CDC to establish the PROTECT Initiative for the purpose of preventing accidental overdoses among children. More than 500,000 children receive medical treatment each year due to accidental poisoning by prescription medications.

Loss of life is the most tragic result of prescription drug abuse, but it is not the only one. Crimes related to prescription drug abuse are on the rise, according to Janet T. Mills, Maine’s Attorney General. Robberies, assaults, home invasions, homicides and other criminal behaviors have resulted from prescription drug abuse. The elderly and infirm–those who are likely to be in possession of pain-killing medications–are at higher risk of victimization. Some police departments around the country are even sponsoring “Take Back” programs in an effort to curb prescription drug-related crimes. Authorities are encouraging citizens to surrender unneeded bottles of prescription opiates for proper disposal.



Critics of these programs question their effectiveness for increasing community safety, but the fact that more than 4000 locations nationwide have implemented a “Take Back” program speaks to the seriousness of the problem and the effort to educate citizens on the dangers of hoarding prescription drugs.

Another dangerous trend regarding “leftover” medication is the temptation to share extra pills with others. Immediate death can result from the improper combination or dispensation of medications without professional consultation.

Environmental concerns linked to the presence of pharmaceutical toxins in the water supply are another issue related to the overuse of prescription medications. Recent studies by the Environmental Protection Agency have found painkillers and antidepressants to be present in U.S. drinking water, an indication that those who are not abusing their medications are disposing of them improperly.

Why is there an increase in the use of prescription medication? The recent rise in doctors’ prescribing habits may flow from the aggressive marketing strategies by big pharmaceutical companies and the monetary compensation they offer doctors for prescribing their drugs. Marketing drugs directly to consumers also creates brand recognition, encouraging patients to request medications that they may not need.

Solutions to the prescription-drug epidemic are elusive and complex. Compared to other topics, doctors receive little education on how to most safely prescribe medication. Changes in political lobbying, pharmaceutical regulation, health care and personal responsibility are obviously required. However, unlike the auto industry which benefits economically from safety research, no such incentives are currently in place for pharmaceutical companies or the health industry as a whole– in fact, it would seem just the opposite is the case.


Gregg Gustafson is a freelance writer who is alsoan outside consultant for Gustafson’s current position is to assist with daily research, writing and tracking patient’s residential drug rehab programs status and helping patient recovery needs.


This site is for information and support only and NOT a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment!
Drug Abuse, prescription

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