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CDC: Prescription Painkillers Kill More Americans than Heroin and Cocaine Combined

Deaths from painkiller overdoses rising, study finds

A new report by the found that prescription painkillers kill more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined.

More than 40 people die every day from overdoses involving narcotic pain relievers such as Vicodin and OxyContin, the report said.

The CDC believes "the increased use of prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons (without a prescription for the high they cause)... has contributed to the large number of overdoses and deaths."

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, one in every 20 people in the U.S. reported using prescription painkillers "nonmedically" in 2010.

“Prescription drug abuse is a silent epidemic that is stealing thousands of lives and tearing apart communities and families across America, ” Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy, said in a news release.

From the CDC:

For the analysis, CDC reviewed state data on fatal drug overdoses, nonmedical use of prescription painkillers, and sales of prescription painkillers to pharmacies and health care 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. States with more nonmedical use tend to have more deaths from drug overdoses.
  • Prescription painkiller sales per person were more than three times higher in the highest state, Florida, than in the lowest state, Illinois. States with higher sales per person tend to have higher death rates from drug overdose.

In April, the office of National Drug Control Policy launched a plan to support and expand state–based prescription drug monitoring programs, education for patients and healthcare providers and support for law enforcement efforts to prevent "pill mills."

Some doctors worry that drug restrictions could become too strict and those who need the drugs may not have access to them.

"People are afraid that narcotics will be harder to obtain in appropriate situations, and I think that's what some of those concerns are about stricter prescription drug monitoring programs are," Dr. Patricia Baumann, assistant professor of anesthesiology at the Emory Clinic in Atlanta, told ABC News. "There are numerous options that should be tried before you go to a narcotic pain medication."

For more information about the study, visit the Centers for Disease Control website.

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