Americans Now More Likely to Die Accidently from Drugs than Car Crashes

In a recent research letter published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (, analysts highlighted the recent surge in prescription drug abuse and resulting deaths in the United States. Using data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control (, the research shows that for adults aged 35-44, the leading cause of accidental death was due to unintentional poisoning, knocking motor vehicle deaths from its former top spot.

prescription_drugsData show that in 2009, there were 15,102 unintentional deaths in the United States, and nearly 49 percent of those were due to accidental poisoning. Motor vehicle accidents contributed to just over 32 percent of accidental deaths for the same year.

The CDC further analyzed unintentional poisoning data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. This annual scientific survey of approximately 67,500 people, aged 12 and older, is conducted throughout the United States. The survey is the nation’s most reliable source of data and information on the scope of substance abuse issues affecting American communities and provides national estimates of the substance abuse problem.

The survey categorizes prescription drugs into four categories: pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives, and then measures the non-medical use of these drugs or their use without a prescription.

Highlighting the overuse, misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers, the data show that in the year 2010, about 12 million Americans of age 12 or older reported non-medical use of prescription painkillers in the past year. Additionally, over one-half of the non-medical users of prescription pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives obtained the prescription drugs they most recently used from a friend or relative with or without their permission.

The chronic use of painkillers (over 200 days per year) nearly doubled from 512,000 in 2003 to nearly 1 million in 2010. The largest increase in usage was seen in 35- to 49-year-old men, who experienced an increase in use of a staggering 135 percent.

This recent report brings to question the current practices of pharmaceutical companies and physicians in prescribing these powerful medications, as well as the lack of regulation and control. Due to the ease of obtaining these drugs through prescribers and through the thriving black market, the research letter concludes that there should be an increased push to educate healthcare professionals, as well as the public, of the dangers associated with abuse and misuse of illicit pain relieving drugs.