Unintentional deaths due to drug poisoning — primarily with prescription drugs — increased by 68 percent between 1999 and 2004, and is second only to motor vehicle crashes as a cause of death from unintentional injury in the U.S., investigators at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
Dr. L Paulozzi and Dr. J. Annest, both with the CDC in Atlanta, summarize the most current data from the National Vital Statistics System regarding accidental poisoning deaths in the CDC's publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The annual poisoning-death rate increased from 4.4 per 100,000 population in 1999 to 7.1 per 100,000 in 2004.
Of all sex, racial and ethnic groups, the greatest increase was among non-Hispanic white females. The age group most affected was persons aged 15 to 24 years.
West Virginia cases skyrocket
The state with the largest relative increase was West Virginia, where rates rose 550 percent. Increases ranged from 195 percent to 226 percent in Arkansas, Montana, Maine and Oklahoma. Accidental poisoning mortality rates actually decreased in Delaware, Maryland, New York and Rhode Island.
The drugs most responsible were psychotherapeutic drugs, narcotics and hallucinogens, and unspecified drugs.
In an editorial note, the CDC researchers write: "Effective response to increasing fatal drug overdoses requires strengthening regulatory measures to reduce unsafe use of drugs, increasing physician awareness regarding appropriate pharmacologic treatment of pain and psychiatric problems, supporting best practices for treating drug dependence, and potentially modifying prescription drugs to reduce their potential for abuse."
They advise that state agencies use prescription-monitoring programs to proactively identify patients who fill several prescriptions from different doctors, as well as physicians whose prescribing practices are outside the standards of appropriate medical care.