Between 2000 and 2010 the number of people that died from drug overdoses more than doubled from 17,000 to 38,000, according to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2009, for the first time in US history, more people died from drugs overdoses than from traffic accidents or firearms, although that is partly because the numbers of gun deaths and road deaths are both decreasing, the BBC reports. So what is causing this epidemic?
“The data suggests the number of people overdosing from pharmaceutical – or prescription – drugs has trebled over that decade, just as the quantity of prescription painkillers sold to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors’ offices has quadrupled over the same period.As a result in 2010, prescription drugs killed more than 22,100 people in the US, more than twice as many as cocaine and heroin combined.
“Explaining the rise, Dr Len Paulozzi of the CDC says: “The use of opioid pain relievers has been increasing since the early 1990s and that increase has been driven by a change in the attitude of health care providers about the effectiveness of those kind of painkillers.
“Initially painkillers were reserved for people with terminal conditions such as cancer and what has changed is an increasing willingness on the part of the prescribers to use pain relievers for a variety of common but chronic conditions such as lower back pain or arthritis. There has been a parallel increase in overdoses involving that class of drugs.” There is also a huge black market for these drugs and in 2012, an estimated 12.5 million people reported using prescription painkillers without supervision from a doctor.”