Drug Overdose Deaths Have Doubled Since 1999, Says CDC

By McCarton Ackerman 12/04/14

Overdoses have skyrocketed due to the rise of heroin and prescription painkiller abuse.

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Drug addiction in the U.S.has become a bigger epidemic than ever. A new report revealed that drug overdose deaths have doubled between 1999 and 2012.

The CDC National Center for Health Statistics released new findings that show drug overdose deaths rose from 6.1 per 100,000 population in 1999 to 13.1 in 2012. There were 41,502 drug overdose deaths in 2012, of which 16,007 involved opioid analgesics and 5,925 involved heroin. The ever-popular heroin was the biggest cause of deaths overall, with heroin overdose deaths tripling over this time period.

A previous CDC report from this past July also highlighted the growing problem of painkiller abuse. Forty-six people die from prescription painkillers each day and U.S. doctors wrote out 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, which is enough to give every American adult a bottle of pills. The highest drug-poisoning death rates were found in Southern states including Texas, Mississippi, and Georgia, in addition to Northern states including Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

The CDC also noted in September that prescription drug deaths had quadrupled in the U.S. between 1999 and 2011. Approximately 4,263 deaths were linked to opioid overdoses in 1999, but that number climbed to nearly 17,000 in 2011. The numbers could be even higher because specific drugs weren’t named in about 25% of all drug deaths.

The greatest increase in death rates occurred in Americans between 55-65 years old, while emergency room visits also doubled for this age group. Many believe that physicians who are merely trying to relieve their patients of pain are contributing to the problem by prescribing dangerous medications when it may not be necessary.

“The amount that [opioids] are administered by well-meaning physicians is excessive,” said Dr. Robert Waldman, an addiction medicine consultant not involved with the research. “Most physicians are people-pleasers who want to help and want to meet people’s needs, and they are more inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt until you are shown otherwise.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.