The number of deaths in the United States attributed to painkiller medications reached nearly 16,000 in 2009. Both cocaine and heroin related deaths in the same year were only approximately 3,000 each.

This statistic in the United States is astounding considering our advancements in medical care and treatments. The highest numbers of deaths were seen in patients who were prescribed medications such as oxycodone, morphine, codeine, and similar drugs. It is quite possible that one cause of these deaths is painkiller overprescription.

Let’s take a look at the risk factors involved in deaths related to opioid medication:

  • Age: Patients age 60 and over were prescribed an average of 1.9 opioid medications in 2009.
  • Accidental death: One in every 5,000 deaths among 45 to 55 year olds was attributed to the accidental overdose of opiate medications in the same year.
  • Race and ethnicity: Deaths from overdoses of opioids were significantly higher among whites than black, Hispanic, or Asian populations in the United States.
  • Population areas: It is interesting to note that the statistics regarding the area where individuals live had almost no bearing on deaths from opiate overdoses. A patient in a metro area is just as likely as one in a non-metro area to die from painkiller overuse.
  • States: However, in light of this information, there are states that rank higher in the United States than others for deaths related to opiates. These include Nevada, Arizona, New York, and Florida.

There are a number of other factors that may contribute to these morbidity rates. Patients with a history of substance abuse, mental illness, previous overdoses, and those who obtain and administer the drugs without a doctor’s care are at a much higher risk of overdose and death.

Painkiller overprescription is a serious epidemic in our country. Experts advise that patients take control of their own care by discussing medication options with their specialists. There may be alternatives to opiate drugs to help with certain conditions.

Have you seen instances of painkiller overprescription in your life?

Image by Gary McCabe via Flickr


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