Drug poisoning deaths are now the leading cause of injury deaths in the United States, which have increased by more than 300% in the last 30 years, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The increase has been seen in both urban areas and in rural areas, with rural areas experiencing a 394% increase and urban areas experiencing a 297% increase. The study also revealed that almost 90% of poisoning deaths in the United States are attributed to illegal or legal drugs, and that prescription drugs are involved in the majority of drug overdose deaths.
About 5 million Americans admitted to using prescription painkillers for non-medical purposes in the past month. The increase in drug-related deaths correlates to the increase in the non-medical use of prescription drugs, especially opioid analgesics.
The researchers analyzed data from the National Vital Statistics Multiple Cause of Death Files. They found that 3% of U.S. counties had annual drug poisoning age adjusted death rates (“AADRs”) over 10 per 100,000 in 1999 but by 2008, the rate increased to 54% of counties. The study’s lead investigator explained, “The interaction suggests that both central metropolitan and rural areas experienced similar absolute rates of increase in drug-poisoning AADRs from 1999 to 2009 and that these rates were more rapid than those seen in fringe or small metropolitan or micropolitan areas. However, since the AADRs in rural areas were substantially lower in 1999 as compared to central cities, the percentage increase was larger for rural areas over time.”
Because this new study was the first to analyze drug poisoning related deaths on the county level across the entire United States, significant trends in drug poisoning related deaths were found: in 1999 to 2000, AADRs greater than 29 per 100,000 per year were largely concentrated in Appalachian counties but by 2008 to 2009, counties across the entire United States had AADRs greater than 29 per 100,000 per year (including counties in Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, the entire Pacific region, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Appalachia, the southern coast of Louisiana, the southern coast of Mississippi, and across the New England states).
Additional Drug Poisoning Death Statistics
In 2008, the number of poisoning deaths exceeded the number of motor vehicle traffic deaths and was the leading cause of injury death for the first time since at least 1980. During the past three decades, the poisoning death rate nearly tripled, while the motor vehicle traffic death rate decreased by one-half. During this period, the percentage of poisoning deaths that were caused by drugs increased from about 60% to about 90%.
From 1999 to 2008, the age-adjusted drug poisoning death rate increased for males and females and for all race and ethnicity groups. In 2008, the rate was higher for males than for females, and higher for non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native and non-Hispanic white persons than for those in other race and ethnicity groups. In 2004, the drug poisoning death rate among those aged 45–54 years surpassed the rate among those aged 35–44 years, and became the age group with the highest drug poisoning death rate. The vast majority of drug poisoning deaths are unintentional.
In 2008, 14,800 of the 36,500 drug poisoning deaths (40%) involved opioid analgesics while cocaine was involved in about 5,100 deaths and heroin was involved in about 3,000 deaths. Of the 14,800 drug poisoning deaths involving opioid analgesics in 2008, the majority involved natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesics such as morphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. The number of drug poisoning deaths involving natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesics increased steadily each year from about 2,700 deaths in 1999 to over 9,100 deaths in 2008. The number of drug poisoning deaths involving synthetic opioid analgesics other than methadone, such as fentanyl, tripled from about 700 in 1999 to 2,300 in 2008.
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