ATLANTA (AP) - Unintentional fatal drug overdoses in the United
States nearly doubled from 1999 to 2004, overtaking falls to become
the nation's second-leading cause of accidental death, behind
automobile crashes, the government reported.
The number of accidental drug overdose deaths rose from 11,155
in 1999 to 19,838 in 2004, according to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention.
The report was based on death certificates, which do not clearly
detail which drugs played the greatest role. But CDC researchers
said they believe sedatives and prescription painkillers like
Vicodin and OxyContin were the chief cause of the increase.
OxyContin has been blamed for hundreds of deaths across the
country in recent years, becoming such a scourge in Appalachia that
it is known as "hillbilly heroin."
Deaths from falls climbed between 1999 and 2004 at a more modest
rate, from 13,162 to 18,807, the CDC said. Motor vehicle crashes
accounted for 40,965 fatalities in 1999 and 43,432 in 2004.
The South had one of the lowest fatal drug overdose rates in the
nation in 1999, but it doubled by 2004. The South now ties the West
for having the highest rate - about 8 per 100,000 population.
"This is the first study really to describe the large relative
increases in poisoning mortality rates in rural states.
Historically, the drug issue has been seen as an urban problem,"
said Dr. Len Paulozzi, a CDC epidemiologist.
The federal report, issued this week, noted that accidental drug
overdoses remain most common in men and in people 35 to 54. But the
most dramatic increases in death rates were for white females,
young adults and Southerners
- The death rates for men remained roughly twice the rate for
women, but the female rate doubled from 1999 to 2004 while the male
rate increased by 47 percent.
- The rate for white women rose more dramatically than for any
other gender group, to 5 deaths per 100,000 population.
- The rate of overdose deaths among teens and young adults, ages
15 to 24, is less than half that of the 35-to-54 group. But it rose
much more dramatically, climbing 113 percent in the study years, to
5.3 deaths per 100,000 population.
About 50 percent of the deaths in 2004 were attributed to
narcotics and hallucinogens, a category that includes heroin,
cocaine and prescription painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin.
Earlier research suggests that deaths from illegal drugs appear
to be holding steady.
"There is a misperception that because a drug is a prescription
medicine, it's safe to use for non-medical reasons. And clearly
that is not true," said Dr. Anne Marie McKenzie-Brown, a pain
medicine expert at Atlanta's Emory Crawford Long Hospital.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)