Prescription Painkiller Overdoses at Epidemic Levels Says CDC; Seniors Sometimes Source
Kills more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined; senior citizens are not big abusers but may be source for others
1, 2011 - The death toll from overdoses of prescription painkillers has more than tripled in the past decade, according to an analysis in the
CDC Vital Signs report released today from the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Senior citizens are
not among those most often in this abuse but are increasingly seen as a source, due to their heavy use of prescription painkillers.
Several states are experiencing a rash of incidents where abusers or dealers are buying painkillers from senior citizens.
A new state report in Ohio finds they
sometimes make the buy as the seniors are leaving the pharmacy. They have been other warnings to seniors to guard their medicine cabinets when
visitors - young people in particular - are in their homes.
Senior citizens mostly uninvolved as drug abuse and
under treated pain become public health crises
July 24, 2006 – Two recent reports show a
significant jump in the use of prescription pain killers for uses other
than prescribed medical treatment. But senior citizens, which many would
assume to be among this growing trend, due to the large number that
suffer with pain and rely on drugs for relief, just do not seem to be
“States, health insurers, health care providers and individuals have critical roles to play in the national effort to
stop this epidemic of overdoses while we protect patients who need prescriptions to control pain. ”
The increased use of prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons (without a prescription for the high they cause),
along with growing sales, has contributed to the large number of overdoses and deaths.
In 2010, 1 in every 20 people in the United States age 12 and older - a total of 12 million people - reported using
prescription painkillers nonmedically according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Based on the data from the Drug Enforcement
Administration, sales of these drugs to pharmacies and health care providers have increased by more than 300 percent since 1999.
“From day one, we have been laser–focused on this crisis by taking a comprehensive public health and public safety
approach. All of us have a role to play. Health care providers and patients should be educated on the risks of prescription painkillers. And
parents and grandparents can take time today to properly dispose of any unneeded or expired medications from the home and to talk to their
kids about the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs. ”
In April, the Administration released a comprehensive action plan to address the national prescription drug abuse
epidemic to reduce this public health burden.
Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis,” the plan includes support for the expansion of state–based prescription
drug monitoring programs, more convenient and environmentally responsible disposal methods to remove unused medications from the home,
education for patients and healthcare providers, and support for law enforcement efforts that reduce the prevalence of "pill mills" and doctor
48 states have implemented state–based monitoring programs designed to reduce diversion and doctor shopping while protecting patient privacy
and the Department of Justice has conducted a series of takedowns of rogue pain clinics operating as “pill mills. ”
President Obama has also signed into law the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act, which will allow states and local
communities to collect and safely dispose of unwanted prescription drugs and support DEA’s ongoing national efforts to collect unneeded or
expired prescription drugs which have collected over 300 tons of medications over the past year.
The prescription painkiller death rates among non–Hispanic whites and American Indians/Alaska Natives were three times
those of blacks and Hispanic whites. In addition, the death rate was highest among persons aged 35–54 years. Overdose resulted in 830,652
years of potential life lost before age 65 years, a number comparable to the years of potential life lost from motor vehicle crashes and much
higher than the years of potential life lost due to homicide.
For the analysis, CDC reviewed state data on fatal drug overdoses, nonmedical use of prescription painkillers, and sales
of prescription painkillers to pharmacies and health care providers.
The study found:
● State death rates from overdoses (from 2008 data) ranged from a high of 27.0 deaths per 100,000 people in New Mexico
to a low of 5.5 deaths per 100,000 people in Nebraska.
● Nonmedical use of prescription painkillers ranged from a high of 1 in 12 people aged 12 and older in Oklahoma to a
low of 1 in 30 in Nebraska. States with more nonmedical use tend to have more deaths from drug overdoses.
● Prescription painkiller sales per person were more than three times higher in the highest state, Florida, than in
the lowest state, Illinois. States with higher sales per person tend to have higher death rates from drug overdose.
While national strategies are being strengthened, states, as regulators of health care practice and large public
insurers, can take the following steps to help prevent overdoses from prescription painkillers and reduce this public health burden:
● Start or improve prescription drug monitoring programs, which are electronic databases that track all prescriptions
for painkillers in the state.
● Use prescription drug monitoring programs, public insurance programs, and workers’ compensation data to identify
improper prescribing of painkillers.
● Set up programs for public insurance programs, workers’ compensation programs, and state–run health plans that
identify and address improper patient use of painkillers.
● Pass, enforce and evaluate pill mill, doctor shopping and other state laws to reduce prescription painkiller abuse.
● Encourage professional state licensing boards to take action against inappropriate prescribing.
● Increase access to substance abuse treatment.
at Greatest Risk
Certain groups are more likely to abuse or
overdose on prescription painkillers:
● Many more men than women die of overdoses
from prescription painkillers.
Middle-aged adults have the highest prescription painkiller overdose rates.
People in rural counties are about two times as likely to overdose on prescription painkillers as people in big cities.
Whites and American Indian or Alaska Natives are more likely to overdose on prescription painkillers.
About 1 in 10 American Indian or Alaska Natives age 12 or older used prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons in the past year,
compared to 1 in 20 whites and 1 in 30 blacks.
CDC is also releasing “Policy
Impact: Prescription Painkiller Overdoses, ”one in a series of issue briefs highlighting key public health issues and important,
science–based policy actions that can be taken to address them. Through this new publication, CDC supports state–based efforts to reduce
prescription drug abuse while ensuring patients have access to safe, effective pain treatment.
For more information about prescription drug overdoses in the United States,
CDC works 24/7 saving
lives, protecting people from health threats, and saving money to have a more secure nation. Whether these threats are chronic or acute,
manmade or natural, human error or deliberate attack, global or domestic, CDC is the U.S. health protection agency.
Vital Signsis a CDC report that
appears on the first Tuesday of the month as part of the CDC journal
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, or MMWR. The report provides the latest data and information on key health indicators, such
as cancer prevention, obesity, tobacco use, motor vehicle passenger safety, prescription drug overdose, HIV/AIDS, alcohol use, health
care–associated infections, cardiovascular health, teen pregnancy, asthma, and food safety.